05/22/2006 11:00PM

Cloned mules to race each other


A pair of cloned mules will compete against each other in June in the first races between two clones, University of Idaho researchers have confirmed.

The two cloned mules, Idaho Gem and Idaho Star, will compete in time trials over the weekend of June 3-4 at an annual mule racing event in Winnemucca, Nev. They are then likely to compete against other mules at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton, Calif., later in the month.

The clones will compete over 350 yards on both days at Winnemucca. There will be pari-mutuel wagering at the event.

Idaho Gem already has recorded two works from the gate at Stockton, Calif., going 330 yards in 21.76 seconds on May 16 and 220 yards in 15.08 seconds on May 18, according to Don Jacklin of the American Mule Racing Association. Jacklin also leases Idaho Gem from the University of Idaho. Roger Downey leases the university's other cloned racing mule, Idaho Star, who was due to work from Stockton's gate on Wednesday.

The university has a third mule clone, Utah Pioneer, who will be exhibited at the Winnemucca event but will not be racing.

"All three spent the better part of their first two years on campus with similar handlers and environment," said Dr. Dirk Vanderwall, a member of the university team that became the first to successfully clone an equine when Idaho Gem was born in 2003. "For the last year or so, two of them have been with different trainers.

"There's an aspect of nature versus nurture to it," said Vanderwall, "and there's the question of how having different trainers might affect their performance," he said. "But it will be hard to assess with only two mules. It gives us an inkling of how different environments might impact their performances."