03/26/2015 3:26PM

RMTC proposal would set two levels for cobalt


A racing-industry organization that issues recommendations on medication policy has approved a proposal that would set two threshold levels for cobalt, a first step in what is likely to be the widespread adoption of cobalt regulations later this year in racing jurisdictions across the U.S.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium approved the two-part threshold at a meeting Tuesday, according to the organization. It has forwarded the proposal to the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for racing commissions that is scheduled to discuss the regulation of cobalt at a meeting in late April. The RCI has said that it expects to approve a threshold for cobalt at that meeting and forward it to its members for immediate adoption.

Rumors have surrounded the use of cobalt for two years in all breeds of racehorses, and racing jurisdictions around the world are quickly moving to put in place rules that would punish those abusing the mineral under the belief that it is a cheap blood-doping substance. Scientific studies have yet to conclusively demonstrate that the mineral has a blood-doping effect, but testing of Thoroughbreds in racing jurisdictions around the world, including in the U.S., has returned concentrations of cobalt well in excess of what a horse could ingest naturally or through common supplements.

Under the RMTC proposal, a horse who tests above a concentration of 25 parts per billion in the blood would be placed on the veterinarian’s list and be unable to race until it tested below the 25 ppb threshold. The trainer of the horse would be subject to a “fine or warning for the first offense.”

If the concentration of cobalt is in excess of 50 ppb, the trainer will be fined and suspended as if it were a Class B medication violation, which, on first offense, calls for a minimum 15-day suspension, up to 60 days if there are “aggravating circumstances,” such as a deliberate effort to cheat. The horse will also be disqualified.

Dr. Dionne Benson, the executive director of the RMTC, said the organization’s Scientific Advisory Board settled on the two-tiered threshold level because “there was a slight possibility” that a horse receiving commonly used vitamin supplements could test above the 25 ppb threshold – even though the horse would have to be administered the supplements aggressively. A horse who tests at a concentration of 50 ppb would almost certainly have had to have been administered concentrated cobalt products such as cobalt salts, she said.

“There’s really no reason a horse should need those salts,” Benson said.

Benson also said that the advisory committee believed that individual states should be left to determine how to treat repeat violators of the 25 ppb threshold. The proposal approved by the RMTC only applies to first offenders.

Only one state in the U.S., Indiana, has set a threshold for cobalt, at 25 ppb. Several other state racing commissions have claimed that they are waiting for recommendations from the RMTC and RCI before considering a rule.

Extremely high concentrations of cobalt are toxic, though studies designed to assess the concentrations of cobalt that generate toxic effects have yet to be released. Nevertheless, ongoing studies have suggested that the toxic effects kick in well past a concentration of 50 ppb, according to officials.

An excess of cobalt also leads to thyroid problems, blood thickening, and cardiovascular problems, according to studies. Those effects have led racing officials seeking regulation of the mineral to point out that cobalt abuse can have significant impacts on a horse’s health, in addition to the potential to illegally improve a horse’s performance.

“This proposal is designed to protect the health and welfare of the racehorse,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board and the RMTC’s secretary.