The Maryland Racing Commission, at its regular monthly meeting on May 19, voted to adopt new emergency regulations to limit the levels of cobalt, which is suspected of enhancing endurance in thoroughbred and standardbred horses racing in Maryland.
MRC executive director Mike Hopkins said the proposed regulations will be put on an accelerated path to approval and are expected to be in place by July 1.
Cobalt is an essential mineral found naturally in all mammals and is normally ingested as part of vitamin B-12. When overused it is believed to have the potential to increase red blood cell production and thereby possibly increase the oxygen carrying ability of those cells. The potential end result on racehorses is that it could make a horse carry its rate of speed longer.
A report by the Association of Racing Commissioners International’s Scientific Advisory Group on cobalt also said high levels of cobalt had the potential to cause acute toxic effects on horses, creating a horse welfare concern.
After reviewing the report, the ARCI, at its April meeting, voted unanimously to recommend two proposals to limit the use of cobalt. The MRC, after studying the report, voted to establish those regulations.
The first proposal establishes that horses that tests show to have more than 25 parts per billion (ppb) but less than 50 ppb of cobalt in their systems will be issued warnings and placed on a list that will not allow them to reenter competition until another blood test is taken and shows cobalt levels below 25 ppb. The additional blood test or tests will be at the owners’ expense.
The second regulation establishes that anyone whose horse exceeds 50 ppb will have their horse disqualified, the purse will be forfeited and the trainer will be suspended on a case-by-case basis for 15 or more days, or fined or both. The horse also will be placed on a list and will not be allowed to participate again until blood tests show a minimum of 25 ppb of cobalt.
Because cobalt is naturally occurring in vitamin B-12 in horses, and is a supplement found in feed, ARCI has to be very careful about determining the levels at which cobalt is naturally found in horses.