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Cleared to race? Cloned quarter horses get victory in federal court

Rocky Mountain Fly (12) with jockey Stevie Gillum aboard, narrowly edges Political Option (3), with John Hamilton in the irons, to win the Louisiana Champions Day Quarter Horse Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans on Dec. 8, 2012. Lynn Roberts / AP file

Two Texas horsemen should be allowed to register cloned horses with the American Quarter Horse Association, a federal court jury said Tuesday, possibly clearing the way for the animals to compete in sanctioned races across the U.S.

The jury in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Amarillo found in favor of rancher Jason Abraham of Canadian, Texas, and veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen of Amarillo, saying the association violated the federal Sherman Antitrust Act and the Texas Free Enterprise and Antitrust Act.

The plaintiffs had asked for $2 million to $5 million in damages, but the jury provided no money award.

Abraham and Veneklasen argued the association held an illegal monopoly in quarter horse racing, the third most popular form of equine racing after throughbred and standardbred racing. Quarter horse racing generated more than $300 million in wagering at U.S. racetracks in 2012. 

The jury verdict does not mean cloned horses automatically get registered. But the plaintiffs’ lawyers said they hoped the American Quarter Horse Association would allow registration without a court hearing on a permanent injunction.

“We wish the jury had awarded damages, but the most important thing to our plaintiffs is to get the horses registered and this is the gateway,” said Nancy Stone, a lawyer for Abraham and Veneklasen.

Stone and said she believes her side would prevail in any hearing on a permanent injunction.

Tom Persechino, a spokesman for the association, said in an email to NBC News that his group was looking at the options for an appeal. 

"We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of this trial," Persechino said in the email. "It continues to be our position that our rule prohibiting the registration of clones and their offspring is both reasonable and lawful."

Abraham and Veneklasen, both members of the association, had argued that cloning would strengthen the quarter horse breed by re-introducing champions who are deceased or unable to breed, and could help reduce disease by enabling breeders to “silence detrimental genes.”

Opponents of cloning within the association countered by saying that natural breeding produced the most desirable traits and that cloning undermines the progression of the breed. They also pointed to the chance of growth defects displayed in other cloned animals.

One example of quarter horse cloning is Pure Taylor Fit, a young copy of two-time world champion Tailor Fit – a gelding. Stallions like Pure Taylor Fit, owned by Blake Russell, can bring in $1,500 or more per mating.

Independent of this trial, according to backers of the technology, equine clones will be appearing this year in other events -- including non-breed specific competitions like barrel racing and reining, along with polo matches and equestrian events leading up to the 2014 Olympics.

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