A US federal judge this week ruled that a major horse association must include cloned horses in its registry, in a move that could set the stage for lab-created animals to participate in future races. As Reuters reports, US District Court Judge Mary Lou Robinson said Monday that she will order the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) to begin accepting cloned horses on its registry, upholding a jury's decision handed down last month.

The AQHA came under fire last year, when two Texas breeders sued the organization on the grounds that excluding cloned horses violated federal anti-monopoly laws. The association argued that it had the right to reject cloned horses because it operates as a private organization. The AQHA's registry currently includes more than 750,000 animals, and the group annually approves thousands of quarter horse races. Last year, total prize money for these races exceeded $130 million.

"AQHA will continue to fight for its members' rights."

Other breeders have argued that cloned horses would have an unfair advantage in races, because they could be genetically engineered to have superior traits (quarter horses are bred for speed over short distances). But a jury last month sided with plaintiffs Jason Abraham and Gregg Veneklasen, much to the disappointment of the AQHA, which seems intent on contesting the decision.

"AQHA will continue to take any and all necessary legal action in seeking to have the verdict of the jury and any judgment entered by the Court in favor of plaintiffs reversed," Don Treadway, AQHA executive vice president,  said in a statement to the Associated Press. "AQHA will continue to fight for its members' rights."

According to Reuters, the AQHA will be the first horse breeding registry to allow cloned animals, though the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association already allows cloned horses to compete in rodeos. The plaintiff's attorney, Nancy Stone, argued in court that the AQHA should permit cloned horses because its registry already includes animals created from non-natural methods such as artificial insemination.

"We're thrilled. We're just thrilled," Stone told the AP following Monday's decision. "It is definitely time."