07/16/2014 3:48PM

Kentucky close to setting threshold level for cobalt

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is close to determining a threshold level for illegal administrations of cobalt, the naturally occurring mineral that is believed to be in use in racing as a blood-doping agent, the commission’s equine medical director said at a meeting of the commission on Wednesday.

Although tests have existed for some time to detect cobalt concentrations in blood, the racing industry has yet to agree on a standard for an illegal concentration of cobalt due to the recent emergence of information about its alleged use. The KHRC began funding studies to determine an enforceable threshold level earlier this year as part of its rapid-response program, which quickly directs funds to study emerging information about drugs that may be in use at tracks.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the KHRC’s equine medical director, did not provide a timeframe for when the threshold level might be ready for approval. However, she told the commission that it will likely need to be set at nearly 100 times the normal naturally occurring level in a horse to ensure that charges of a violation will stick on a finding of the drug. She also assured the commission that the concentration could be detected up to two weeks after an administration, and that a positive for the drug would carry the same penalty as confirmed blood-dopers such as erythropoietin or darbepoietin. Those penalties are among the harshest in racing, with a minimum one-year suspension.

According to racing officials, cobalt is allegedly being used in horses for its purported ability to enhance red blood-cell production. Red blood cells carry oxygen to tissues, so cobalt, as the theory goes, acts like a blood doper, even if studies have yet to conclusively demonstrate any significant effect from administrations of the drug, which can be toxic in large doses and associated with heart attacks and thyroid deficiency.

 Scollay described the effort to develop a threshold level after the commission began discussing a request to approve a $250,000 outlay for the rapid-response program over the next two years. Over the previous fiscal year, the rapid-response program has spent approximately $93,000, Scollay told the commission, including the money used to conduct the cobalt tests.

“I would suggest the money at this point has been very well spent,” Scollay said, noting that commissions in Kentucky, California, and New York are the only ones that currently conduct research through rapid-response programs. “It’s pretty much the three of us fighting the fight for everybody.”

The commission unanimously approved the $250,000 two-year outlay, which is a cap on the program’s available funds for the period.

Kentucky Downs wager proposal tabled

Also at the Wednesday meeting, an agenda item to approve a request by Kentucky Downs to offer a novel wager, the Jockey 7 (hyperlink text to: http://www.drf.com/news/kentucky-downs-proposes-new-jockey7-wager), during its September meet was tabled. Corey Johnsen, the president of Kentucky Downs, said after the meeting that commission staff had notified him of several “minor clarifications” to the bet’s rules on Tuesday, the day before the meeting. Rather than rush through the clarifications, Johnsen said, the track intends to address the concerns in the next month and ask approval for the bet at the commission’s August meeting.