09/04/2014 4:09PM

Indiana adopts penalties for excess levels of cobalt

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The Indiana Horse Racing Commission adopted an emergency rule on Thursday to issue penalties for any horse who tests positive in post-race tests for an excess level of cobalt, a mineral that is alleged to be in use by trainers seeking to boost performance in every racing breed.

The commission adopted the rule by a vote of 3-0, according to the commission. Last week, the commission’s executive director, Joe Gorajec, issued a report outlining the results of recent blood tests conducted by the commission on 354 Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses racing in the state. The report said that 21 of the samples, or 5.9 percent, had levels in excess of 25 parts per billion, a concentration that would be impossible to reach without administering high doses of the mineral.

With the adoption of the rule, Indiana becomes the first state to ban excess levels of the drug in Thoroughbreds, though California has begun testing for it. New York has passed a rule outlawing an unspecified concentration of the drug in harness horses, and on Thursday, the state said that the violation for a first offense would be a 10-year suspension.

Several other states, including Kentucky, are in deliberations on adopting a rule but are waiting on the results of research designed to determine a proper regulatory level for the mineral, which occurs naturally in a horse’s body and is used to synthesize vitamin B-12.

The Indiana rule will prohibit any concentration above 25 parts per billion. The penalty for a first offense would be “up to a one-year suspension,” a fine, and forfeiture of the purse.

Horsemen are believed to be administering cobalt in water-soluble salts available at many Internet pharmacies, many of which have dubious reputations. Although scientific studies have yet to conclude that high levels of cobalt can improve performance in a horse, horsemen are allegedly administering the substance in the hopes that it boosts red-blood cell production, akin to the function of illegal blood dopers like erythropoietin.

Rumors of cobalt use began cropping up late last year, with many of the allegations arising out of the harness world. In the round of testing in Indiana, 7.8 percent of the Standardbred samples had excess levels of cobalt, and 3.1 percent of the Thoroughbred samples were positive. For Quarter Horses, the rate was 6.4 percent.

Excess levels of cobalt can have serious health consequences, leading to heart attacks and thyroid deficiencies, according to research.