New Zealand racing authorities are investigating after a thoroughbred trained at one of the country’s most prominent stables tested positive for cobalt.
The result, in a post-race swab taken from racemare Quintastics after her win at Matamata on March 11, is the first positive cobalt test in New Zealand.
Quintastics is trained at Wexford Stables by Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott.
Wexford Stables, in a post on its Facebook page, said it had been advised by the Racing Integrity Unit that one of its runners had returned a positive swab.
The post did not specifically mention cobalt, a naturally occurring substance which is subject to threshold limits in New Zealand.
“There are also two other samples with results pending,” the post said.
“The matter of how these horses have provided irregular samples is a mystery to us and is highly upsetting to everyone involved.
“We will now be conducting a thorough investigation into our feeding and supplement regime but as this is an ongoing investigation we can offer no further comment at this stage.
“We imagine this could be a timely process so for now it’s business as usual at Wexford Stables.”
NZRacing.co.nz, the official thoroughbred racing website for the country, posted a report that Quintastics’ post-race swab exceeded the allowable 200 micrograms per litre in urine.
The Racing Integrity unit has blood and urine samples analysed in Wellington before sending them to a laboratory in Perth for confirmation.
It had told the training partnership that two more samples were currently being examined in Perth, following results obtained in Wellington. The Perth results were not expected until the end of next week.
Racing authorities around the globe have been clamping down on the use of cobalt in the industry, with most now imposing a threshold for blood or urine tests.
Cobalt is a trace element which some in the industry believe has performance-enhancing qualities. It is said to have a similar effect to erythropoietin (EPO) in stimulating production of red blood cells. This is said to lift the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, hence boosting performance.
However, in a recent study published in The Veterinary Journal, scientists from the University of Surrey have pointed to the lack of evidence for enhanced performance in both horses and human athletes.
They also warned about the many risks posed to racehorses from the misuse of cobalt chloride.
The team of researchers found that excessive levels can cause serious cardiovascular issues, potential nerve problems, thickening of the blood and thyroid toxicity.
Cobalt, required by all horses in order to survive, is normally present at very low levels through various feedstuffs. However, excessive amounts of impure formulations of the substance, which can be administered easily as a powder, feed supplement or injection, can lead to severe side effects, including long-term damage to vital organs such as the heart.