08/28/2014 3:02PM

Indiana racing commission considers rule regulating cobalt levels


The Indiana Horse Racing Commission will consider an emergency regulation at a meeting next Thursday that would establish a threshold level for cobalt, the naturally occurring mineral that is allegedly being used by some horsemen under the belief that it could boost red-blood-cell production, according to a staff report posted on the commission’s website.

The report states that the commission has recently analyzed 354 blood samples from Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds racing in the state and found that 5.9 percent, or 21, of the samples had a concentration of cobalt in excess of 25 parts per billion, the proposed threshold. From the Thoroughbred samples, 3.1 percent were positive for a concentration above the proposed threshold, the report states.

Although California began testing samples for cobalt earlier this year, no state has passed a rule establishing a threshold level for the substance and providing penalties for violations. Kentucky is in the process of adopting a threshold level but is waiting on the results of several studies examining testing results for the mineral before going forward. The Association of Racing Commissioners International is also awaiting the study results before recommending a model rule on regulation of the substance.

Though naturally occurring, horsemen are allegedly administering the substance to horses in the form of water-soluble salts typically obtained from Internet pharmacies. The substances are being marketed for their ability to act akin to blood-doping agents like erythropoietin and darbepoietin, even if there is no scientific evidence demonstrating that the substance could measurably improve performance.

Worse, cobalt, in high enough concentrations, is toxic and can be associated with heart attacks and thyroid deficiencies. The Indiana racing commission staff report referenced the health risks of the substance as part of the justification in passing an emergency rule regulating the mineral.

“A review of these [testing] results indicate that excessive cobalt administration is jeopardizing the integrity of Indiana’s racing product and endangering the health and welfare of racehorses,” the report states.