09/30/2014 10:03AM

Harness: USTA-funded cobalt study results released

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Results of an intensive, United States Trotting Association-funded scientific study intended to ascertain the appropriate regulatory level for determining the excessive presence of the naturally-occurring substance cobalt were announced on Tuesday (Sept. 30).

Based upon extensive research, the scientists have concluded that 70 parts per billion in blood is the appropriate regulatory threshold. The recommendation guards against false positives, while identifying those who are engaged in artificial administration with the intent to enhance a horse's performance.

"I want to thank Doctors Maylin, McKeever and Malinowski for applying appropriate scientific principles and protocols to achieve a regulatory threshold that is both reasonable for the industry and efficacious in deterring those who would choose to violate it,” said USTA President Phil Langley in praising the contingent’s diligent efforts.

“With substances that are a natural constituent of a horse like cobalt, there is always a fine line between catching the cheaters and protecting innocent horsemen from violation. These scientists worked hard to achieve a proper balance, which should serve as a guidepost for the rest of the industry," added Langley.

The USTA Medication Advisory Committee will continue to study the overall effects of cobalt and other substances in the racehorse in greater detail.

Research indicates that cobalt stimulates the production of erythropoietin (EPO) to produce red blood cells. Widespread abuse of cobalt by human athletes has been rumored for years, and its purported use in racehorses prompted the USTA to take a highly proactive approach in the prevention of its artificial administration for the purpose of illicit performance enhancement. 

In June, the USTA contracted with Dr. George Maylin of New York’s Drug Testing and Research Program at Morrisville State College to determine at what level cobalt ceases being considered a naturally occurring substance and becomes a clear attempt at performance enhancement. His work was assisted by Director Dr. Karyn Malinowski and Associate Director Dr. Ken McKeever from the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Based upon the USTA’s funding, Dr. Maylin was able to secure a long-term lease of a specialized state-of-the-art instrument required to conduct proper scientific analysis to determine the presence and levels of cobalt in samples. That new, unique equipment with unrivaled performance differentiates these results from any other scientific study on the artificial introduction of cobalt in horses. 

It is anticipated that the regulators in several jurisdictions will consider the suggested threshold when the supporting data is released.

-Edited release (USTA Communications)