- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nick Zito needed to be in five places at once at any given time this week at Churchill Downs, since he is training five horses to run in today’s Kentucky Derby for five different owners.

“It’s been a challenge,” Zito said.

Zito could have used four more Zitos to make his life easier and accommodate each owner, but no one has started cloning racing trainers yet.

Someone is, however, cloning racing horses.

Just two weeks ago, Italian scientists announced they had created a second cloned horse — this one from the DNA of a thoroughbred Arabian gelding race champion.

Laboratory officials told reporters the birth sets the stage for preserving the lines of the best race horses by creating clones that can breed.

So how long will it be before someone starts cloning Derby winners?

Not today, because the rules don’t allow for it. The Jockey Club, the official breed registry for horses in North America, prohibits cloned horses. But what about tomorrow? If you believe in the genie-out-of-the-bottle theory, race horse cloning will become more and more prevalent until the science is too lucrative to ignore.

And are you going to tell me George Steinbrenner — owner of today’s Derby favorite, Bellamy Road — wouldn’t jump at a chance to clone his horse if it would give him another Derby horse someday? Heck, right now if Boss George could clone Joe DiMaggio, there would be nine Yankee Clippers taking the field at Yankee Stadium.

The Italian scientists’ announcement takes the notion of cloning one step away from science fiction and one step closer to a real issue horsemen might have to deal with in the future.

“I have thought about it, and it scares me to think about it,” said John Servis, who trained last year’s Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones. “This whole cloning thing scares me. You start flirting with that stuff and it gets in the wrong hands and it is uncontrollable.

“I guess it could wind up here. I hope not. But there are no guarantees. You can have two brothers totally different. Rockport Harbor’s [the one-time Derby contender Servis trains that has been sidelined with leg ailments] brother hasn’t even [won its first race] yet.”

Edward Sexton, the manager of Boss George’s Kinsman Farm, said cloning would take the thrill out of the business.

“It would be like a computer,” he said. “You want a horse like this, there you go. That is the excitement in this, to go and find a horse. If you can go to the candy store and buy what you want, there is no excitement in it. But if you are out there searching and hunting for this special horse, that is part of the excitement.”

Zito believes it would take the romance out of the sport — particularly for the horse.

“I hope it doesn’t end up in our industry,” Zito said. “Science has done a lot of great things, but I think the natural way is always the best — if you can.”

Trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time Derby winner, has only long shot Sort It Out in today’s race. But if given a chance to have a cloned champion, he joked he would love to train the horse.

“If you cloned a horse like Point Given [his 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner], I am all for it if I can train the cloned horse,” he said.

Baffert would clone Point Given, but if you consider the question of being able to clone any horse in history, it would spark a heck of a debate. War Admiral? Seabiscuit? Secretariat?

My choice? Mr. Ed.

“That would be good some day, to have horses who could talk,” Zito said when asked about answering questions about his horses.

Mr. Ed would make a lot more money than any Derby winner. And if he were here and talking today, he would say Sun King in the upset win, as Boss George heads for Italy to buy himself some scientists.

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