Perhaps the greatest polo player ever, Adolfo Cambiaso is planning to compete on a pony that died nearly a decade ago—a clone of his beloved stallion Aiken Cura. With more than 25 replicas of champion horses now in existence, Haley Cohen explores how the science came to polo. ... Aiken Cura is one of a number of horses that Cambiaso has duplicated. Through their company, Crestview Genetics, Cambiaso and two wealthy polo enthusiasts—the founder, Texan Alan Meeker, and Argentinean tycoon Ernesto Gutiérrez—have created more than 25 clones of Cambiaso’s champion polo horses and around 45 clones in total. Some are already breeding, and a few others began to play in top tournaments last year. Since the company’s establishment, in 2009, the partners have cloned not only for themselves but also for other international polo players who are willing to shell out around $120,000 per horse. Crestview is one of only two commercial groups in the world replicating polo horses, and it is the more prolific. ... Cloning began long before the world started paying attention to it, in 1996, when Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell, clomped into the world. One hundred years before, in 1885, Hans Driesch created two identical sea urchins by jiggling a two-celled urchin embryo until the cells separated and grew into their own creatures. Through much more sophisticated processes, scientists have since cloned pigs, cows, dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. (It is estimated that there are now around 300 cloned horses in the world, although no one has really kept track.) Now, with Crestview’s efforts, polo—the ancient “game of kings”—has found itself on the frontiers of cloning technology. ... “I did the math and realized it would take me $100 million and 50 years to get the quality of horses I wanted through conventional breeding,” he says. “I decided I didn’t want to spend either.” Instead, he turned to cloning.
The verb to use in polite company is “cover.” The stud covers the mare. Or: About 11 months after she was covered, the mare gave birth to a healthy foal. ... The deed itself, here in the hills of Kentucky horse country, is governed by strict rules. Section V, paragraph D of The American Stud Book Principal Rules and Requirements is clear: “Any foal resulting from or produced by the processes of Artificial Insemination, Embryo Transfer or Transplant, Cloning or any other form of genetic manipulation not herein specified, shall not be eligible for registration.” No shortcuts, no gimmicks. All thoroughbreds must be the product of live, all-natural, horse-on-horse action. ... two weeks after American Pharoah retired, his 2016 stud fee was set at $200,000, the highest ever for an unproven, first-year stallion. Only one other active stud—a tested, 15-year-old veteran named Tapit—commands that much per successful cover. Tapit’s first-year fee was $15,000; his rate rose to its current $300,000 only after a decade of producing stakes-winning foals. ... Successful stallions are routinely matched with more than 100 mares in a five-month breeding season. Particularly energetic ones might cover as many as 200 a year. If American Pharoah produces several seasons of healthy and fast foals, standard pricing norms suggest that his stud fee will multiply exponentially. Very quickly, the $8.6 million he earned during his racing career would begin to look like small change.
If you were able to observe this creature in person, which is hard to do, given that they live in only a few places on earth, you would find it in a family network—a harem—with a dominant stallion watching over mares and their offspring, in groups of 5 to 15. For this to happen, you would have to be in Mongolia, Kazakhstan, China or Russia, the only places the horse lives anymore in the wild. ... You don’t ride the takhi, or stable it, or—pony-like as the horse appears—saddle it up and perch children on it at birthday parties. The horse is too wild for that. While it has been captured and occasionally confined to zoos, it has never been tamed—it is the only truly wild horse in existence. Other horses that are thought of as wild are in fact feral. ... There are roughly 2,000 takhi in the world right now, and the largest number of them live at Hustai National Park, within 60 miles of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar.