When I read last week, in a Vanity Fair article profiling Crestview Genetics, the nearly off-hand comment that Storm Cat had been cloned, I felt an electric sensation that the future was already here. Or perhaps, the past was actually the future. Then, rationalizing, my second thought was that someone had misspoken, had meant that a son or daughter of the most commercially dynamic sire of the past generation had actually been the horse cloned. Not Storm Cat, surely.
Chris Young of Overbrook Farm confirmed that Storm Cat, the powerful dark bay son of Storm Bird and Terlingua (by Secretariat), “has indeed been cloned.”
Since Storm Cat was euthanized on April 24, 2013, at the Young family’s Overbrook Farm, racing and breeding have been adjusting to the state of affairs, no Storm Cats available to race, that had been developing since the stallion had been pensioned in 2008.
Today, there are essentially no remaining offspring of Storm Cat on the racetrack, and Young confirmed that will remain the case. He said, “We have no intent to race the Storm Cat clone or its offspring” in non-sanctioned races, as had been suggested in the Vanity Fair article.
Rather, Young explained the situation was one that grew out of a meeting with Alan Meeker years ago and an awareness of Meeker’s genetic cloning business, Crestview.
Crestview’s signature cloning results in high-end polo ponies for élite players and teams around the world, and that is how Young came to know Meeker.
Then, a few years ago, “when Storm Cat’s health was declining,” Young recalled, “we took blood and tissue samples from the horse, and we shared those with the UK Gluck Equine Research Center, to develop a baseline of data about Storm Cat’s genetics, and with Crestview.”
From the Storm Cat sample in its possession, Crestview was able to produce clone embryos of Storm Cat, and earlier this spring, they had two [colt] foals who were clones of Storm Cat. Both were pictured and mentioned in the Vanity Fair article, but Young said that one of the colts has since died in a paddock accident.
That leaves the single colt who is a living thread of his famous father, or is it he himself?
Overbrook “shares ownership of the colt with Crestview Genetics that is similar to a royalty arrangement,” Young said, that would be paid from any resulting stud fee earnings. He said that Meeker had sent an email Tuesday morning, July 28, with an update that the colt is doing well.
“We have done what we wanted to do: create a source of sperm genetically identical to Storm Cat,” Young concluded.
This is a box of bees that could be kicked into high gear by a single rule change at the Jockey Club: allowing cloned horses and their offspring to be registered as Thoroughbreds and to race. Currently that is emphatically not allowed, and frankly, I expect to be walking on water before that change occurs.
So Storm Cat’s clone will be restricted to mating polo mares or mares from other breeds which allow cloning and other forms of reproduction aside from live cover for exclusive use in the polo industry.
That will be a radically different career from the colt who was born 32 years ago and who dominated breeding and racing during a 20-year career at stud. Owned, bred, and raced by W.T. Young, Storm Cat was the best American-raced son of Storm Bird (Northern Dancer), and Storm Cat would have been champion 2-year-old but for Tasso’s nose victory at the end of the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Retired to Overbrook, Storm Cat became a sire of such class and distinction that he dominated sales and racing with performers like Kentucky Oaks winner Sardula, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat, Alabama Stakes winner November Snow, Hopeful winner Hennessy, Beldame winner Sharp Cat, Breeders’ Cup race winners Sweet Catomine, Storm Flag Flying, Cat Thief, Life is Sweet, and Desert Stormer, as well as the top racehorse and sire Giant’s Causeway. In all, Storm Cat sired 181 stakes winners from 1,414 foals.
As a racehorse and as a sire, Storm Cat operated at an élite level and became a legend without the advantage of perfect conformation or unlimited initial opportunity among his mates.
Whether a clone of Storm Cat could attain such success is not known. It is also probably immaterial because the Jockey Club allows registration only of foals born from natural cover, and the Storm Cat clone would not qualify for registration.
But as long as he is standing in that paddock of lush grass, the question will be, “What if?”
Young provides a pragmatic answer to much of the wondering about the cloned colt: “When the colt lives to sexual maturity, and if he is fertile and a healthy breeder, then we will have him mated to polo mares, and in a few more years, we should know whether those foals are good performance horses in that sport.”
After the better part of a decade, we will know whether the Storm Cat clone will be a success in this new venture and will add an asterisk to the history and legacy of Terlingua’s son.