Test Results Show Cobalt Abuse ‘Likely Occurring on a Daily Basis’ in Indiana

by | 08.28.2014 | 3:21pm
Eight bottles of concentrated cobalt mistakenly delivered to the wrong clinic helped uncover a widespread drug issue in Australian racing

The Indiana Horse Racing Commission will consider emergency rules next Thursday, Sept. 4, to regulate cobalt, a potentially dangerous substance to horses that many believe mimics blood-doping agents like erythropoietin (EPO).

If the commission approves the recommendations made by executive director Joe Gorajec, Indiana will become the first North American racing jurisdiction to regulate cobalt.

If approved, new regulations would become effective for post-race testing on Sept. 30, with an out-of-competition program going into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Gorajec, after becoming concerned that excessive use of cobalt may be a pervasive problem in Indiana racing, ordered testing of samples from all three breeds regulated by the commission: Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses.

A total of 355 blood samples were tested at the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington, Ky., over 23 racing days (12 at the Hoosier Park Standardbred track and 11 at Indiana Grand, where Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses compete).

Results showed that 21 of the 354 samples showed an excessive amount of cobalt (defined as higher than 25 parts per billion, or 5.9 percent. The highest concentration was 1,127, found in a Thoroughbred, a level 45 times higher than the proposed permitted threshold. The median level in the 127 Thoroughbreds tested was 1.6 ppb.

By breed, the numbers above the 25 ppb threshold level were: Standardbred, 14 of 180 samples (7.8 percent); Thoroughbreds, 4 of 127 (3.1 percent); Quarter Horses, 3 of 47 (6.4 percent).

The report goes on to say that, because only about one in five horses is tested, it is likely over 100 horses competing over 23 days of racing had excessive cobalt levels.

This is the first time testing results for cobalt levels has been made public in the U.S.

“A review of these results indicate that excessive cobalt administration is jeopardizing the integrity of Indiana's racing product and endangering the health and welfare of racehorses,” Gorajec wrote in his staff report to the commissioners. “Immediate action by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission is recommended.”

Gorajec is advising Indiana's racing commissioners that “an emergency exists,” warranting quick action on cobalt.

“Test results have demonstrated that cobalt abuse is ongoing in all breeds at both of Indiana's pari-mutuel racetracks,” he wrote in his report. “It is likely occurring on a daily basis.”

Because the state's primary testing laboratories – LGC Science in Lexington, Ky., and Industrial Laborities in Wheat Ridge, Colo. – currently can not test for cobalt levels, Gorajec is recommending the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory be used to for testing, with the University of California-Davis lab as a confirmation lab on split samples.

The threshold level of 25 parts per billion would apply to both post-race and out-of-competition testing.

Cobalt would be identified as a Class A substance, bringing the most severe penalties for violations.

The only actions to date on cobalt, other than warnings from racing racing commissions on potential harmful side-effects, is a move by Meadowlands harness track owner Jeff Gural to exclude trainers whose horses tested  at significant levels. The Association of Racing Commissioners International issued a press release Aug. 4 on cobalt but have yet to set a model rule threshold level.

High levels of cobalt have been identified as a health risk in humans and laboratory animals, leading to heart dysfunction and thyroid impairment. Side effects of excessive cobalt use in horses is not specifically known.

Read the Staff Report

  • betterthannothing

    I admire Joe Gorajec’s dedication and his fight against abusive cheaters but as long as the industry chooses to license them, the chase will never end: abusive cheaters will continue abusing and cheating with stealth substances and game “the game” somewhere.

    • eightbelles2008

      Ask Joe Gorajec WHY he is not naming or penalizing these trainers. HE is the biggest cheater in Indiana racing!!

      • Bubba

        probably because as of this time it is not illegal.

        • Guest

          It is illegal. The issue is, until now there was no reliable test with established acceptable levels for cobalt. Now that we have a test and a cut-off, the testing lab can call positives that will be upheld, legally.

          • eightbelles2008

            Thank You.

        • Guest

          Read Indiana’s rules.

  • togahombre

    This is for all that hope for federal intervention in racing, cobalt abuse became an issue almost a year ago, jeff gural moved on it almost immediately, thresholds and penalties, the rci( political appointees and lifetime bureaucrats) are still wrestling with each other to come up with thresholds and penalty recomendations(not hard fast rules) that wont offend any of the affected parties, the authority’s that the rci members represent have for the most part come up with nothing on it yet as well, some haven’t come to agreement on tc02 yet , they claim their main objective is to get it right, even if it takes a lifetime, with these kind of qualifications they should have trouble getting on the grounds not leading it into the future

    • Hamish

      I have heard the “we must get it right or no reform” refrain over and over and over again from those in a position to lead industry initiatives, so I agree with the sentiment of let’s do something now before it is too late for the horses and whatever sport we have left. All decisions to change, in all aspects of life, come with some degree of measured risk, so let’s try some new things, new ways, and insist on cultural and attitude changes amongst our peers and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, let’s try something else. It’s really that simple. Waiting for the perfect plan to come together at the perfect time is no longer a viable strategy.

  • Tinky

    Luckily it’s only being used in Indiana.

    • LongTimeEconomist

      Wanna bet???

      • Tinky

        Sarcasm indicator malfunction?

        • LongTimeEconomist

          I knew that. I was just trying to nudge you into elucidating a bit more.

          • Barry Irwin

            OMG, like he needs prodding!

          • LongTimeEconomist

            I had wondered what was holding him back.

          • Tinky


            It’s difficult to elucidate while I am holding my breath for the CA authorities to connect the dots with the slew of deaths and rampant use of Thyrol in Baffert’s barn. As soon as I am able to exhale – which should come any moment now – I’ll share further thoughts.

      • Barry Irwin

        This is the trouble with the accounting mentality: no sense of humor!

  • val

    A list of responsible trainers would be nice.

  • Charles Smith

    For those of you who post frequently in these threads and make it your business to attack any group and any one who stands for medication reform, you’ll be railing at USADA before you know it, if scandals like this one continue to pop up. If you’re not familiar with USADA, they’re the folks who reeled in Lance Armstrong. There are some slick race horse trainers with even slicker veterinarians, but USADA will have an answer for all of them, just like they had for Lance Armstrong.

    • betterthannothing

      The sooner USADA gets involved in horse racing nationwide the better although racing must do far more than worry about doping. It must seriously worry about the welfare and safety of its horses on and off track. When USADA finally gets involved racing must remember that Lance Armonstrong was nailed thanks to whistleblowers and investigators not years of drug tests.

      Based on what is still going on in Indiana under Joe Gorajec’s watch, it is scary to think about the mediocrity and abuse that might go on in states which don’t give a damn about RMTC recommendations, quality drug testing, NYRA accreditation (despite its huge equine safety and integrity holes to avoid major disruptions) and can’t be bothered with recording and reporting their injured and dead horses to TJC.

    • Tonto

      USDA has been ‘supervising’ Tenn. Walking Sh ow horses for 50 years and abuse has just gotten worse.

  • Jay Stone

    If each state that has racing has to come up with individual penalties for drug use you get what we now have. This problem can only be rectified with one national group controlling the regulation of this sport. Each state is now controlling their only little fiefdom and that archaic system doesn’t work. In some states you can have multiple positives that are not adjudicated for years and when the penalty comes it is a small fine and thirty day suspension. Until this changes the status quo will rule. The independent track owners, like Mr. Gural, have the right to evict those they consider harmful to their sport but most except him want the states to take action. In most instances the states want the tracks to act even though they are regulators. As a result we have what exists today compounded by alphabet groups that have no power at all.

  • eightbelles2008

    If this is such an integrity issue that it needs to go thru the emergency rule making process, then why in the world would you not want the rule to go into effect immediately instead of waiting until Sept 30th. So the cheaters can continue to cheat until then? Don’t be fooled by Joe Gorajec people, HE is the biggest cheater in Indiana Horse Racing. Its time for a new IHRC Executive Director as this one is ruining horse racing in Indiana!!!

    • turffan

      If you read the staff report and use some basic math & logical thinking, 24 days between the vote & actionable testing will basically curtail the excessive use. Putting your personal feelings for the man aside you might see this as a good move. Names would be great but ending the practice is great by itself. Better to enact the policy in 24 days than all the other alphabets/commissions needing 24 days(months/years) to think about the fact, that they might need to consider, maybe thinking about it.

      • eightbelles2008

        I have read it. I know many things going on here and none of them are good for racing in this state….the first being Joe Gorajec. You have no idea.

        • turffan

          Well cobalt testing is good. Please, do tell, what are some of the bad things? Put them out there for discussion, without making the personal attacks so they won’t be deleted. Can’t address problems without knowing what they are.

  • turffan

    Once this passes…Hopefully IN will make public the post 9/30 test levels for comparison sake. A subsantial drop would make it easy for others to follow suit. I appreciate that it was admitted 25 ppb was probably to high & they have left the door wide open to lower the threshold immediately as more data comes in.

  • Lexington 4

    Standardbreds: 7.8 percent
    Quarter Horses: 6.4 percent
    Thoroughbreds: 3.1 percent


    • Barry Irwin

      Harness racing is the cycling of the equine set–always have been.

  • Michael Castellano

    On a side note, Baffert is one of the biggest names in racing, and probably one of the worst dopers unless you think the seven horses under his care that dropped dead were just coincidence, and of course once there was a little heat on him, the deaths stopped. Yet the industry is afraid to go after him because of what it would say about the amount of cheating going on in racing. Nothing will change until these crooked trainers are punished, they just keep finding new ways to cheat.

    • guest speaker

      There have been a ton of trainers over the past couple of years racing at the Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey & Pennsylvania meets whose win percentages have dropped as much as 20-30% after getting caught cheating and then while being watched. After a bit of time, once the heat is off, their win percentages begin to climb once again. One female trainer in particular dropped from 40% to single digits for a while, but now that the heat is off, she is climbing again. There are many others who were winning at 45% and up who have dropped down to 15/20%, but are climbing again. Usually it’s a good 6 months to a year that these types back off, and then get brave again.

      • Michael Castellano

        Seems like the so-called “top” trainers may sometimes be the biggest dopers? Not only is the practice bad for the horses, it makes us gamblers try to include “a juice” factor when we pick a horse. By that I mean, is there an especially juiced up horse in the race? Or has that horse already been over juiced and can’t run as well as it did before? Ultimately, it may be one of the reasons the breed is being destroyed. As most of the recent good horses are so juiced up, as well as all of them racing on Lasix, that you have horses being bred that perhaps never should have been bred. The “proof” of this doesn’t come from a fan like me, but from looking up the records and seeing the steady, even drastic decline in the number of races in a career a horse has.

      • betterthannothing

        Interesting observations, thanks. It would be great if we could share relevant information such as yours with a central racing commission and/or USADA which would process all tips seriously. Once a cheater is exposed, either the heat is on and cheaters lay low for a while, or they move to an abuser/cheater friendly track or cheating owners move their horses to trainers still able to cheat and win big under the radar. Those poor horses need serious protection!

    • Flag Is Up

      Baffert’s win percentage, especially during this Del Mar meet, has been very poor since he stopped using the Thyroid medication. Also, has anyone heard about any heart attacks since he stopped using said medication?

      • betterthannothing

        Amazing isn’t! He might also have reduced his whole chemical program to play it safe and try to repair his reputation.

      • biggar

        He’s clear down to 23%. The bottom is really dropping out for Bob.

        • Flag Is Up

          Del Mar 2012 (24%)
          Del Mar 2013 (23%)
          Del Mar 2014 (16%)
          Heart attacks (0%)

          Play the game your way and I’ll stick with current facts.

  • JoeJoe

    Wonder trainers beware (deleted)

  • guest speaker

    The problem with racing right now is that the trainer ranks have somehow gradually replaced handson knowledgeable horsemen with clueless lazy criminals. By lazy I mean, these people don’t get their hands dirty or break a sweat in the mornings. They spend a lot of time on the phone calling in vets for even the most minor of situations.
    Don’t believe me? Next time you are in the barn, test your trainer with something as simple as ‘describe the process of laminitis. Not what is laminitis, but the process of laminitis. This is the perfect test question if your trainer is anywhere knowledgeable about horses. This question is not too tough, not too simple. Any trainer worth his/her salt should be able to answer this.

    • rays

      The sport has been completely corrupted by the likes of Baffert, Rodriguez, Ness, Dutrow, Ziadie, etc. It needs to be completely shut down for five years and an entirely new approach adopted, with new trainers, new education and training regimen implementation, complete track control over everything and everyone entering a barn and purse and breeding reform to gravitate away from rewarding fast 2 year olds with obscene maiden purses.

      Unless these reforms are adopted the sport will continue to die and will perish in 10 or so years.

    • Rhett Fincher

      How many trainers could actually start (“break” for the traditionalist) and train a horse to accept a rider by themselves? How many could accurately explain the fundamental needs of the horse? Negative reinforcement? A+ in B.S. is what it takes to be successful for the vast majority. Horsemanship questions on the trainers test, at least in Kentucky, are nearly zero.

  • Guest

    Have yet to find an article from a refereed scientific journal stating that cobalt actually improves racehorse performance. Everyone should be much more concerned with the use of shockwave “therapy” which has been proven to delay neural impulses and thus act as an undetectable pain reliever. Pain relief in the thoroughbred whether it be by intravenous, intraartricular, or other modalities allows owners and trainers to race animals that should be rested.

    • betterthannothing

      “The depravity of some people is only limited by their imagination.”

      Guest speaker, thank you for bringing those abusive practices up. I would add electric shocks of various kinds to the abominable list of chemical-free torturous practices.

      Whether cobalt is a PED or not, the abusive, cheating POS have/had the intention to cheat and that should be enough to punish them, otherwise they will use real or more potent dope sooner or later. Those who choose to dope horses also choose to abuse and endanger the lives of horses and riders for financial gains. Racing cannot afford its POS and horses need to be protected from them.

      POS from coast to coast do anything to make injured, spent, sick and unfit horse appear sound and fit enough to reach the starting gates then run as fast as possible while assorted profiteers, enablers and the $ystem facilitate abuse and unethical conduct.

      POS know that “the game” ignores too many red flags to fill races and apathy and the code of silence continue to protect and reward them. We know that the 72 Hour security scheme is done for PR purpose and cannot stop or detect doping unless some POS really screw up dosage and/or timing. Those poor horses just get poked with needles additional times. POS can fool regulatory vets during pre-race exams (if/where performed) and test labs are trailing cheaters by months and years. Sorry to repeat myself but it is why horses need to be protected from assorted forms of abuse with constant security, surveillance/intelligence, in stall CCTV, tracking, rigid drug protocol, transparent medical records, off competition soundness monitoring, mandated rest and retirement, etc.

      • Hamish

        So true, so why can’t these bad behaviors and illicit practices be stopped?

  • turffan

    IBOP was formed in late 2011 as a reaction to someone not getting their way. Very onesided. No more impressed now than when I received the 1st news letter inviting me to send money. Web site still request donations but can’t find a list of officers or anything, You have to read every boring, onesided write up just to piece together who’s involved.
    And guess what…I know too. Been involved in racing, breeding & stallions in IN since Hoosier opened. Joe ain’t perfect, he has upset some people but I feel he’s pushing towards a better industry. This Hoosier likes where Indiana is headed even if the road is bumpy from time to time.

    • eightbelles2008

      Not one sided and that is your opinion. Sorry you don’t appreciate facts. Facts from public record requests’ straight from the IHRC. Hope you never get on the wrong side of Joe G.

      • turffan

        The HBPA fiasco was not Gorajec’s doing, he was put between a rock & a hard place. The HBPA officers are elected & ousted by the horseman. The newly formed IBOP jockeyed for the privledge to handle the slots $$ along with ITOBA. Everybody caught wind as to what was going on ( no secrets on the backside) but an elected HBPA was the most appropriate org to handle the $$ that was earmarked for backside benevelance. Can either relatively wealthy Owners & Breeders org appreciate the needs of the backside better than those who are there day in & day out?? Probably not. I DO NOT agree w/ everything the HBPA does or stands for/against but backside welfare is one thing they are more intune to. Last I checked Joe Gorajec was the executive director of the IHRC, NOT the executive micromanger of the IHRC. I don’t have to worry about getting on his bad side because I follow my morals & consider other’s needs as well as my own…..You know “do onto other’s” & “best for the horse” & “the greater good”.

        • eightbelles2008

          Wow…that’s a lot of incorrect information so I there is no need to continue this convo SMH.

        • eightbelles2008

          So much incorrect info there, no need for me to continue this convo

          • turffan

            Guest?/eightbelles2008, I had every intention of dropping this convo a couple replys ago. But what, exactly, about what I just said is false?? Maybe IBOP & ITOBA didn’t actually file an app to control funds? But they sure as heck were lobbying for support to do so. Please clear up what was inaccurate about what I said….If you can.

  • Elliott ness

    Was walking out pharmacy yesterday, a little old lady of 80 years was in cuffs. Asked the store manager what’s up, he said she shoplifted a dollar tube of hand cream, they took her to jail. Why then if this cobalt issue is now for real and the evidence is for the taking, why are the arrest not being made.? If this cobalt issue is for real, the owners , trainers and vets are stealing millions of dollars. This makes no sense from a law standpoint. Tube of hand cream vs. millions of dollars. None of this horse racing makes any sense. I suppose being a trainer and vet is a license to steal. 007 with a hypodermic. The little old lady, I bailed her out.

  • Tonto

    They just won’t give up trying to find the ‘easy edge’- try training and good shoeing and see how it works out

  • Fifth Third

    Love how Zayat family now use the hashtag #weareacleanteam on every Twitter post but continue to use Cobalt Bob as a trainer

  • Janet

    All the doping should be banned – not moderated or controlled. Train the horses properly and let them race based on their own abilities. Bring back integrity to horse racing. It sickens me that so many substances (not just those labeled drugs) are fed to the horses in an attempt to make them run faster, run longer, etc… Breed for strength, endurance and ability. Don’t drug for it!

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