When Believe In Science (DNA) walks into the herd at the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Non-Pro finals and the Open semifinals, owner-breeder Phil Rapp will be anxiously watching to see if a decades-old experiment is finally going to pay off.
The 3-year-old filly is no ordinary horse. Her mother, Whats On Tap, is a clone.
Whats On Tap is a clone of the great Tap O Lena, a daughter of Doc O Lena who won over $500,00 and whose get won over $650,000 in lifetime earnings.
Despite breeding Whats On Tap six times to the industry’s leading stallions, the mare has had only one money earner — Smooth Tap, who won $926.
When the Rapp family’s freshman stallion Dont Stopp Believin (Dual Rey x Dont Look Twice x High Brow Cat) entered the picture, Phil and his wife Mary Ann decided to breed the stud to Whats On Tap and give a chance to see what would happen.
Doing so resulted in a foal that traced back to Tap O Lena on its paternal side as the great mare is Dont Stopp Believin’s great-grandmother, and also had Tap O Lena’s clone, Whats On Tap, as its mother.
So far, Believe In Science is showing tremendous promise having not only qualifying for the NCHA Futurity Open semifinals on Saturday with the Rapps’ son, Ryan, but also made Friday’s Non-Pro finals.
“We are really over the moon with how good she, especially knowing the rest of what Whats On Tapp has produced,” Rapp said. “Whats On Tap has been a dismal failure all the way around. She made a good turnback horse, but until Believe in Science came into the picture she didn’t do much.”
The experiment started in 2004 when the company ViaGen approached Rapp with a request to consider cloning top broodmares Tap O Lena and Playboys Ruby, a daughter of Freckles Playboy who foaled the winners of more than $1.9 million.
“I was in my 30s and still in a position to be able to train those mares and they wanted to see difference in the original and the clone horse,” he said.
Both mares were successfully cloned in 2005, and the Rapps took possession of the clones as yearlings. Neither amounted to the success Rapp had hoped. Whats On Tap never competed, and he said both clones lacked the fire, intensity and integrity of their donors.
No everyone thought clones were the way to go.
The American Quarter Horse Association — the registry in which the majority of cutting horses are registered — does not register clones. And, Rapp remembers some industry members rebuking his decision, with one saying cloning would set breeding back by creating a line in sand as the best genetics were ever going to be.
At the time Rapp didn’t see it that way.
“Through time and experience I realized he was right,” Rapp said of the detractor. “The theory is to make each generation better than the previous.”
Tap O Lena was Rapp’s favorite horse. Her granddaughter – $850,628-earner Dont Look Twice was an even better cutting horse than her granddam. So, the idea is that horses get better with every generation.
“It’s a convergence of all those genes that should make a better horse,” Rapp said.
Clones at the Futurity
Though unusual, Believe In Science is not the first offspring of a clone to compete at the NCHA Futurity. Three competed in 2014 – all sired by Metallic Cat out of clones of Doc’s Serendipity, Lynx Melody and Playboys Ruby – though none advanced out of the go-rounds to the semifinals.
In 2017, an offspring of a clone made the Open semifinals for the first time when trainer Dirk Blakesly got there with Metallic Blue Genes (DNA), a filly by Metallic Cat and out of Royal Blue Boon Two (DNA), a clone of the great Royal Blue Boon. The mare eventually finished 35thin the Open.
In polo, clones appear to have more success than those in the Western performance horse industry. In Rapp’s experience, the offspring from the clones lack the spirit, intensity and special stuff God puts into them.
“Those clones cost a lot of money. Should we have done it?” Rapp said. “No, but if this mare Believe In Science goes out and helps promote the stallion and we have success with her in the long game, maybe it was worth it.”
The Rapps don’t plan to be doing any more cloning in the future, but they do plan to breed Whats On Tap back to Don’t Stopp Believin in 2021.