Second horse same as the first

Web Posted: 02/01/2007 11:33 PM CST

John Whisler

ATHENS — For most people, six months of recurring double vision would be a cause for alarm. Not barrel-racing legend Charmayne James. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Seeing double has become part of her daily routine. It flares up every morning when she heads to the show barn on her 100-acre horse farm in East Texas, and again every evening when she completes her rounds.

In a corner stall stands Clayton, a prized foal born Aug. 8 on a ranch in Boerne.

The bay-colored colt is the mirror image of another horse dear to James' heart — Scamper, a 30-year-old gelding James rode to a record 10 consecutive world barrel-racing titles from 1984 to 1993.

The uncanny resemblance carries a very simple and very precise explanation.

Clayton is Scamper's clone

"The first time I saw him, the hair on the back of my neck just stood up," James says of Clayton, named in honor of her hometown in New Mexico. "I was speechless. He looks so much like Scamper — it's unreal."

Unreal visually. And, by traditional standards, biologically.

Ordinarily, Scamper would have tremendous breeding potential. Yet, as a gelding, the horse can't breed naturally. Enter the new science of cloning.

Just because Scamper can't reproduce didn't mean Scamper can't be reproduced.

The only drawback is the older horse's sense that he has competition on the farm.

"He thinks he's king," Tony Garritano, James' husband and business partner, says of Scamper.

Scamper's aggressive behavior has forced James to keep the two horses apart as much as possible.

"They're alike in every way," she says. "Even their personalities are the same. I'm so lucky to have them. It's unbelievable."

Although the cloning of livestock has been around for a decade — Dolly the sheep made headlines in 1996 by becoming the first mammal cloned from an adult cell — the cloning of horses is relatively rare.

Only about 20 have been cloned worldwide, many of those in Texas.

The process of cloning Scamper involved taking a tissue sample from inside his lip, then growing the sample so DNA could be extracted from a cell. That DNA was then implanted into an egg whose genetic material had been removed.

After the embryo was grown in vitro for several days, a company in Boerne — Zerlotti Equine — performed the embryo transfer by implanting it inside a surrogate mare.

The result, genetically speaking, was a later-born identical twin, Clayton, of an adult animal, Scamper.

And double vision for James.

It happens every time she looks at her colt, now 6 months old, and Scamper. Clayton even bristles when touched in a particular area behind his ear — just like Scamper.

The only visible difference is the white markings on Clayton's face, the result of the migration of cells in the womb.

"That's good," James says. "At least this way Clayton has his own identity."

James, who will be honored for her barrel-racing achievements during the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo on Feb. 15, says she has no plans to race the colt or have anyone else race him. Instead, she'll use him as breeding stock in her effort to bring other championship-quality horses to the pro barrel-racing circuit.

"Clayton's just too valuable to take a chance," says James, who in addition to breeding horses travels the country conducting barrel-racing clinics. "From a business standpoint, it just doesn't make sense. He doesn't have to prove his ability."

The cost to produce an average barrel horse, James says, ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 per breeding.

James said she anticipates Scamper's cloning to spark debate in the rodeo and horse-racing industries. Currently, none of the major equine registries allows papers to be issued on clones or their offspring.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which sanctions barrel-racing events, has no restrictions on using cloned horses in competition.

PRCA spokeswoman Ann Bleiker says the issue simply hasn't come up yet.

"The practice of cloning horses is just too new," Bleiker says. "I think even Charmayne will tell you we're swimming in uncharted waters here. Besides, there's no guarantee a cloned animal will become a champion."

James agrees. She says bloodlines alone, without the proper environment and training, aren't enough to produce a championship horse.

But as for Clayton, she likes his chances. The reason, she says, is in the genes.

"A one in a million kind of horse," she calls Scamper.

The gelding was sold a half-dozen times before being purchased by James 25 years ago for $1,100. Used initially as a working horse on the family feedlot, Scamper was spirited and hard to handle at first. But James, then 11, quickly bonded with the horse.

In 1984, at age 14, James rode Scamper to the barrel-racing title at the San Antonio rodeo — her first victory — on the way to their first of 10 consecutive world titles.

After Scamper was retired, James slipped from the top of the money list. She finished as high as second (in 2000) before winning her 11th world championship aboard a horse named Cruiserin 2002. James retired from competition in 2003.

But it was Scamper who carried James to the title of first million-dollar cowgirl and the distinction as barrel racing's all-time leading money winner. All that earned him induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame — the only barrel-racing horse so honored.

"The heart and try in that horse," James said, "is unbelievable."

"Not even Michael Jordan won 10 titles in a row," Garritano says. "Neither has Tiger Woods. It gives you an idea of how unique and how great this horse really was."

James says Scamper still gets the star treatment, including the best minerals and the best feed available.

Clayton? He gets exactly the same, she said.