The Association of Racing Commissioners International is close to deciding what the legal limit of cobalt should be in racehorses. The naturally occurring element is reputed to have blood-doping effects when administered in large quantities. In order to curtail its use as a performance-enhancing drug, research is being performed to determine the exact effect that elevated cobalt levels have on horses.
Reputation for blood-doping
Those in horse racing circles may have heard that cobalt is being used as a way of increasing a horse's red blood cell count. These cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to the various organs and muscles in a horse's body. Therefore, if it is found that large doses of cobalt actually increase red blood cell production, then that would be an instance of blood doping. In order to keep such practices out of the sport, there are multiple studies being conducted to determine how much cobalt needs to be present in a horse's system for there to be a measurable effect on performance.
Collaboration with research institutions
Though the Association of Racing Commissioners International did propose a threshold limit for cobalt in the bloodstream, it ultimately chose to withdraw its ruling pending the results from certain research studies. The results of the first study conducted by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and funded by the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council will be compared to those of a study by the United States Trotting Association before any hard and fast rules are established.
Fact or fiction?
While there is no definitive scientific evidence that suggests high levels of cobalt lead to increased red blood cell production, there have been cases of horses at racing events testing positive for extremely high levels of the substance. This suggests that there is a belief among those in the Thoroughbred and harness horse racing communities that cobalt has performance-enhancing effects. In order to protect the safety of horses and the integrity of horse racing, Meadowlands, a harness racing track in New Jersey, has instituted its own house rules on cobalt threshold levels. Other racing tracks are expected to do the same if overarching rules aren't passed soon. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission expects it will set a threshold of 100 times the average natural concentration. That means, any horses that have higher cobalt levels will be disqualified from competition.