'Egregious' Levels of Cobalt Trigger Bans

Six Standarbred trainers sanctioned by New York State Gaming Commission.

Six Standardbred trainers in New York were suspended after horses in their care registered extremely high levels of the mineral cobalt, and for three of them, the levels were so high the New York State Gaming Commission issued 10-year bans per incident.

Harness trainers Tyler Nostadt, Joseph Carrubba, Dennis Washington, Sean Campbell, Megan Gilmour, and Dawn Devaux were suspended immediately, the NYSGC announced April 6, and face significant additional sanctions. Horses trained by Nostadt, Carrubba, and Washington were found to contain cobalt at "egregious enough levels" to warrant minimum 10-year suspensions, officials said.

The trainers' violations occurred at Monticello Casino and Raceway, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, and Yonkers Raceway in March. NYSGC officials said they will refer the cases to appropriate law enforcement for contemplation of animal-cruelty charges.

Several tests revealed cobalt levels of 661 nanograms per milliliter in plasma to 1,195 nanograms per milliliter. The trigger for a 10-year suspension is 300 nanograms per milliliter.

"The commission has found multiple harness horse trainers exhibiting reckless disregard for horse health and safety in the name of trying to gain unfair advantages," NYSGC executive director Robert Williams said in a release. "They are being held accountable for their actions."

New York State equine medical director Dr. Scott Palmer said low levels of cobalta naturally occurring element with properties similar to those of iron and nickel—are present in all horses and are not considered to be harmful. The mineral can be found in many horse feeds and vitamin supplements.

Palmer said there is no therapeutic reason to administer large doses of cobalt to horses, and that high doses of cobalt salts have the potential to enhance performance in a manner similar to blood-doping agents and can cause detrimental effects on a number of body systems, including tachycardia, hypertension, and cardiac arrhythmias.

New York rules mandate that any Standardbred trainer whose horse is found to have cobalt levels at more than 50 nanograms per milliliter in plasma is considered to be in violation and subject to applicable penalties.

According to the test results released by the NYSGC, Nostadt had five horses in violation, with the lowest reading at 361 nanograms and the highest at 819; Carrubba had three positives, the lowest at 497 nanograms and the highest at 1,179; and Washington had one positive at 1,195 nanograms. They face 10-year suspensions and $25,000 fines per incident.

Campbell had five horses test positive, the lowest at 85 nanograms and the highest at 185; Gilmour had one positive at 169; and Devaux had one positive at 289. The three trainers were summarily suspended and fined $25,000.

The NYSGC said it continues to investigate more than 30-post race samples that showed elevated levels of the alkaloid glaucine in Standardbred racehorses. The probe includes researching of claims of environmental contamination.