The New York State Gaming Commission has told local media it plans to begin testing racehorses for excessive amounts of cobalt, after New Jersey’s Meadowlands harness racing track found horses testing positive for excessive amounts of the substance.
The commission, which governs racing in New York State, told the New York Daily News that testing would begin soon.
“The commission supports efforts by track operators to exclude parties who put horse health and safety in jeopardy and call into question the integrity of horse racing,” it said in a statement.
“New York’s Equine Drug Testing Program is continually evolving. The Morrisville laboratory has acquired on loan the equipment to test for cobalt. Personnel are being trained to test for cobalt, and George Maylin [the director of equine drug testing in New York] has been consulting with Meadowlands officials to help establish the proper thresholds for determining cobalt positives.”
Cobalt, when given in sufficient quantities, has been found to enhance performance. It also carries risks of cardiovascular issues, nerve problems, thickening of the blood, and thyroid toxicity.
The Association of Racing Commissioners International said its Veterinary Pharmacology Subcommittee was reviewing the scientific literature on cobalt to determine a formal recommended classification and penalty class for it.
The cobalt issue blew up after Meadowlands revealed it had banned two trainers after “massive amounts” of the substance were found in their horses.
Analysis by the Hong Kong Jockey Club laboratory of samples from several horses were found to have the previously undetected performance-enhancing substance.
Two of the horses had very high levels, Meadowlands said. “In both cases those trainers are no longer allowed to participate at our three tracks.”
Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment has been conducting out of competition testing on horses racing for the past year, in part to determine if any trainers are using illegal substances, but also to gather information pertaining to what racehorses are being given before racing and to implement rules to keep the horses safe.
“We had heard rumors that a substance known as Cobalt was being used because it was difficult to detect and was not being tested for,” Meadowlands said. “A large number of these samples have revealed the presence of Cobalt in the horse’s system.”
Based on its research, Meadowlands has determined that in excessive levels, Cobalt is both a performance-enhancing substance and detrimental to the health and well-being of the horse.
“We are quite certain that trainers and veterinarians using Cobalt were well aware of this. Therefore, going forward, Meadowlands has established a threshold level of four times the standard deviation above the normal level of cobalt.
“If a blood sample reveals that a horse has a Cobalt level higher than four times the standard deviation above the normal level, the trainer of that horse will be deemed unable to participate at the track, as well as Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs,” Meadowlands said.
The odds of a horse having a Cobalt level that exceeds this threshold without having been administered an excessive amount of the substance are roughly 1 in 10,000.