01/10/2014 2:58PM

Meadowlands sets threshold for cobalt; rules off pair of harness trainers

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The Meadowlands racetrack in New Jersey has put in place a threshold level for the naturally occurring substance cobalt after out-of-competition tests it conducted on samples from Standardbred horses revealed the presence of the mineral, the racetrack has announced.

In a press release, the Meadowlands said that samples from two horses tested positive for a “massive amount” of cobalt and that the trainers of the horses have been banned by the track and two other properties, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in New York, under the tracks’ private-property right of exclusion. All three properties are owned by Jeff Gural, a New York-based real estate developer and harness owner.

Gural, in an interview, would not identify the trainers who were banned.

“I’m not looking to do anything other than to make sure they don’t run at my tracks,” Gural said.

Cobalt is a natural substance that can be found in horses and other organisms in the form of vitamin B-12, which is a popular injection among horsemen. In the release, the Meadowlands said that the threshold level for the substance will be set at “four times the standard deviation above the normal level,” a limit that the track said would be nearly impossible to exceed without deliberating administering the mineral to a horse.

A positive will result in a trainer be ruled off the grounds of the Meadowlands, Tioga, and Vernon, the track said.

Gural said that the samples were taken from horses at farms and training facilities in various locations in New Jersey. The samples were sent to a laboratory in Hong Kong for testing.

Gural said that the samples did not reveal “widespread” use of cobalt. He said several samples other than the two that tested for “astronomical levels” of the substance also revealed the presence of high levels of cobalt, but not so high that he felt he should take action against the trainers.

It is unclear why horsemen or veterinarians would administer cobalt to a horse, officials said, though some speculate that horsemen may think the mineral could lead to increased production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, a function of vitamin B-12. Cobalt also is a component of the biological process that turns sugars into energy.

Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, said that cobalt can be detected with current laboratory tests but that the substance has not yet been targeted by rule-making bodies because it had not previously been thought to be a substance of abuse in racing. No state currently enforces a limit on the amount of cobalt a horse can legally have in its system.

“It’s not a big mystery. We can detect it,” Zanzuccki said. “But it’s going to take a lot more research to determine what a rule should be on it.”