An analysis of more than 350 blood samples has led the Indiana Horse Racing Commission to recommend establishing a testing threshold level for cobalt and classifying the substance as Class A, which are drugs and substances that bring the most serious penalties.
Cobalt is an essential dietary mineral for animals found in Vitamin B-12, which is regularly given to racehorses. There are concerns, however, that cobalt is being administered to racehorses outside of regular dietary supplements.
According to Dr. Rick Sams at LGC Science in Lexington, excessive cobalt administration can be toxic and potentially have performance-enhancing effects because the element can stimulate production of erythropoietin and red blood cells.
The IHRC arranged for the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to test 354 blood samples taken during 23 days of racing at Indiana Grand Race Course (Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse) and Hoosier Park Racing & Casino (Standardbred). Of the 127 Thoroughbred tests, four (3.1%) produced cobalt levels in excess of a proposed 25 parts per billion threshold. Of the 180 Standardbred tests, 14 (7.8%) produced excess cobalt levels.
The highest reading from a Standardbred sample was 353 parts per billion. Two Thoroughbred samples produced readings of 1,127 and 614.8 parts per billion, according to an IHRC report. The two highest concentrations from Quarter Horse samples were 848.1 and 435.5.
The emergency rules on regulation of cobalt will be considered at the IHRC meeting Sept. 4. The rules, if adopted, would take effect Sept. 30.
Earlier this year the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium adopted a cobalt threshold of 25 parts per billion based on available research. The number is believed to be an accurate gauge of whether a racehorse received a normal supplement or cobalt was improperly administered.