The New York State Gaming Commission Sept. 4 said it will issue a standard 10-year suspension to anyone who violates the harness racing rule prohibiting the use of substances that abnormally oxygenate a horse's blood, including supra-dietary administration of cobalt salts.
The NYSGC said the rule took effect in August, and that it is considering a similar rule for Thoroughbred racing in the state.
Cobalt is a naturally occurring element present in vitamin B-12, which is given to racehorses. Cobalt salts have a number of industrial and agricultural uses, but are not intended for administration to horses, the NYSGC said in a release.
"The commission will not allow those seeking to cheat to undercut New York's world-class racing program," NYSGC executive director Robert Williams said. "We take seriously any practices that compromise the health and safety of racehorses."
Williams said NYSGC equine medical director Dr. Scott Palmer and the New York Drug Testing and Research Laboratory have instituted a comprehensive program to identify violations.
Cobalt is found in low levels in many horse feeds and vitamin supplements, and those levels aren't considered to be harmful. Large doses can cause cobalt toxicity associated with myocardial and other organ pathology in humans and other animals.
Officials said the detection of "abnormally high levels of cobalt in the blood of racehorses results from cobalt being administered to impermissibly enhance aerobic performance through illicit blood doping" similar to administration of erythropoietin.
The NYSGC has opted not to publish the threshold level at which it will test for cobalt in blood samples.
"The administration of feed supplements and vitamins containing cobalt will increase the serum level of cobalt to a degree consistent with oral supplementation, but will not create the abnormally high levels that result from the administration of cobalt salts," the NYSGC said. "Oral administration of commercially available vitamin B feed supplements cannot elevate serum cobalt to a level that will create a positive regulatory finding."