Johnny Weatherby: the threat of gene manipulation must be tackled head-0n

Watchful eye: Johnny Weatherby (left) looks on as The Queen makes a presentation to Aidan O’Brien after Coolmore’s Merchant Navy won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at last year’s Royal meeting. Coolmore’s Tom Magnier is in the background. Photo: Zuzanna Lupa/

Weeks don’t get much more significant than this for Johnny Weatherby. As Her Majesty’s representative at Ascot, he is the vital link between The Queen and arguably the most famous race meeting in the world. Mind you, making a success of crucial jobs in the industry is all in a day’s work for Weatherby, who is also chairman of the 250-year-old family firm that bears his name and is both the secretariat and banker to British racing.


Who do you believe is the most important figure in the history of racing around the world?

Her Majesty the Queen is a commanding global presence. A tremendously successful owner and breeder, hugely respected for her knowledge and experience.

The Queen takes a great personal interest in Ascot Racecourse and particularly in the international side of Royal Ascot.

She has really enjoyed meeting all the overseas competitors and there is no doubt that her presence at the meeting – it is wonderful that The Queen has not missed a single day since the Coronation - helps to make it the most international meeting in the world.

Which is your favourite venue and race (anywhere in the world)?

It has to be Ascot Racecourse, having been involved there as a trustee since 1997 and as chairman for ten years. A lot of investment has gone into the venue since it was built, and we try to improve the facilities every year. The track is very fair and of course the races take some winning!

Little Horwood comes a close second - the location of my first point-to-point winner on my mother’s Battle Run in 1991!

My favourite race has to be one of over 100 races we sponsor each year - the Weatherbys Super Sprint at Newbury in July. We’ve sponsored it for over 25 years and it was one of the first races of its kind to give the smaller owner with more reasonably priced horses a big prize and a day to remember. There’s always a great story around each winner - including Lyric Fantasy, Risky, Mrs Danvers and many more.

What is your fondest memory in racing?

I’ve had many tremendous days at Ascot but one that stands out is Frankel spreadeagling the field at the Royal meeting in 2012, to win the Queen Anne Stakes by 11 lengths.

The Queen’s Estimate winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot is another wonderful memory. We all hoped it might happen and when it did the whole racecourse was euphoric.

Ryan [Moore] looked up at the Royal Box and gave his traditional understated nod and salute, while John Warren [the Queen’s racing manager] was dancing. The sport could not have planned a better outcome and the photographs of the Duke of York presenting the Gold Cup to the Queen were brilliant.


In recent years, I’ve taken great pleasure following the few horses I’ve bred or owned.

The best so far is Presenting Percy, who we bred at home, out of our winning point-to-point mare Hunca Munca. Watching him win twice at the Cheltenham Festival and become one of the top National Hunt horses in Britain and Ireland has been brilliant.

Top Wood has been thrilling over the last couple of seasons. He was placed in the two most recent runnings of the Foxhunters Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and then won the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree’s Grand National Festival this year.

Kelly Morgan, who trains a handful of horses for me at home, has done a superb job with Top Wood and trained three other individual winners for me in the last six months. Top Wood is 12 years old now and Kelly produces him spot-on for the big days. He has the heart of a lion and so deserved to win at Aintree - a race that I will never forget.

What do you see as the biggest challenge racing faces today?

One of the key issues being tackled by Weatherbys, the International Stud Book Committee and others is the threat of manipulation of the heritable genome, or gene doping, of the Thoroughbred. The real danger of gene manipulation is to the integrity of the Thoroughbred breed. With all stud book authorities as the gatekeepers of the breed, stud books have a responsibility to tackle this threat head on.

We are working on closer collaboration to increase industry awareness and education of the threats of gene manipulation and introduce strong initiatives to prevent it. We cannot disrupt 300 years of selective breeding, through gene manipulating now.

If you could change one thing in racing, what would it be?

Technology is key, and Weatherbys, where I have worked for 40 years, has a responsibility to play a leading role in the development and adoption of solutions that will drive the industry forward.

Crucially, we must educate and engage a wider audience that may previously not have been enthusiastic about the sport. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in the breeding world, where our Stud Book division is at the forefront of the technology drive. In the coming months and years we would like to see nearly all those involved in the industry using Weatherbys developed digital solutions.

This will include the Digital ePassport, which will offer improved bio-security, traceability, data collection, vaccinations and ownership recording. We are currently in a live test environment with a vaccination app and, separately, a movement app, which will be rolled out to the industry later this year.

The trick for racing is to combine its heritage with a modern outlook and relevance. Be proud of the history but constantly ambitious and determined for the future.

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