Scientists at University College Dublin say they analyzed DNA from hundreds of horses, including samples extracted from the skeletal remains of 12 celebrated thoroughbred stallions born between 1764 and 1930.
The analysis allowed them to trace the origin of the C type myostatin gene variant, dubbed the "speed gene."
"Changes in racing since the foundation of the thoroughbred have shaped the distribution of 'speed gene' types over time and in different racing regions," researcher Emmeline Hill said in a university release Tuesday.
"But we have been able to identify that the original 'speed gene' variant entered the thoroughbred from a single founder, which was most likely a British mare about 300 years ago, when local British horse types were the pre-eminent racing horses, prior to the formal foundation of the thoroughbred racehorse."
Hill is a co-founder of Equinome, which has developed a genetic test currently being used by the global bloodstock and racing industry to identify the optimum racing distance for individual thoroughbred horses.
"Having first identified the 'speed gene' in 2010, we decided to see if we could trace the origin of the gene variant using population genetics coupled with pedigree analysis," Hill said. "We wanted to understand where speed in the thoroughbred came from."