The Meadowlands uncovers use of new performance-enhancing drug


A racehorse steps onto the track during training. Image by Clarence Alford.
A racehorse steps onto the track for training. Image by Clarence Alford.

RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY (January 8, 2014) — For the past year, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment has been conducting out-of-competition testing on horses racing at The Meadowlands, in part to determine if any trainers are using illegal substances, but also to gather information pertaining to what racehorses are being given prior to their races and to implement rules to keep the horses safe.

This testing, performed in a joint effort by The Meadowlands and other jurisdictions, is in the form of blood samples taken from horses racing at The Meadowlands. We had heard rumors that a substance known as Cobalt was being used because it was difficult to detect and was not being tested for. A large number of these samples have revealed the presence of Cobalt in the horse’s system. In two cases there were massive amounts present when the samples were analyzed by the lab at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. In both cases those trainers are no longer allowed to participate at our three tracks.

After a lengthy process, including researching into what Cobalt is and what it does for the horses and discussions with many veterinarians, The Meadowlands has determined that when an excessive amount of Cobalt is administered to a horse, it can be very harmful. When used in excess, the affects of Cobalt can be, but are not limited to: cardiovascular issues, potential nerve problems, thickening of the blood and thyroid toxicity.

Based on this information, The Meadowlands has determined that in excessive levels, Cobalt is both a performance enhancing substance and detrimental to the health and well-being of the horse. We are quite certain that trainers and veterinarians using Cobalt were well aware of this.

Therefore, going forward The Meadowlands has established a threshold level of four (4) times the standard deviation above the normal level of Cobalt. If a blood sample reveals that a horse has a Cobalt level higher than four (4) times the standard deviation above the normal level, the trainer of that horse will be deemed unable to participate at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.

The odds of a horse having a Cobalt level that exceeds this threshold without having been administered an excessive amount of the substance are roughly 1 in 10,000.

“We are committed to providing the most integrity-driven product in harness racing,” said Chairman Jeff Gural.

“We set out on a mission when taking over The Meadowlands to not only provide our customers with that integrity-driven product, but to do what is best for the horse and for the industry. This threshold of Cobalt being implemented for horses competing at The Meadowlands, Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs is just one step toward achieving what we set out to achieve. If you are found to be giving your horses an excessive amount of this substance, you are not racing at any of our three racetracks, plain and simple. This is not about catching trainers that are cheating, this is about keeping our equine athletes safe and healthy and providing our betting public and all of our participants a product that is on a level playing field.”

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23 thoughts on “The Meadowlands uncovers use of new performance-enhancing drug”

  1. What is the standard deviation of Cobalt in a horse and why would any jurisdiction allow four(4) times that level to be acceptable if they know that this heavy metal is extremely toxic.


    1. Cobalt salts have been commonly used for many years as the source of Cobalt in livestock feeds. Cobalt (Co) is an essential micromineral that is important for blood cell formation but the requirement is very low. Microbes in the horse’s digestive system use Co from the diet to convert it to Vitamin B12 which is used in conjunction with iron and copper in the formation and maintenance of blood cells.

      There is lots of info out there with regard to maximum tolerable amounts in feed etc. However, as far as the statement “a Cobalt level higher than four (4) times the standard deviation above the normal level” goes, after a cursory glance I could not find any information about threshold limits and what study they did to come to the conclusion as to what the “normal level” is and the respective standard deviation – at least here in NA.

      I did come across a threshold limit that applies in Australian racing – perhaps the same standard, not sure. On December 16, 2013 Harness Racing New South Wales adopted a new Local Rule which sets out a threshold for the prohibited substance Cobalt – a concentration in the urine of Cobalt Chloride at a level of 200 micrograms per litre.


      1. I appreciate your effort to get the word out about Cobalt use and why it both dangerous and a performance enhancer.

        I saw that several people commented that we were allowing a drug to be used as long as it is a certain amount.

        Unfortunately, there is not enough baseline information available to determine what the normal amount of Cobalt should be and until more work is done to establish that we thought the fair thing to do was to pick a number above which there could be no doubt that Cobalt was being administered and was not occurring naturally in the horse’s system.

        In no way were we condoning the use of Cobalt and once we have better information available we should be in a position to come up with a level that ensures that no one is falsely accused of administering the drug. We have gone to great lengths to catch trainers cheating including the hiring of our own investigator and sending the samples to Hong Kong to be tested. No one should draw the wrong conclusion on our desire to eliminate any performance enchaining drugs.


        1. Thank you Jeff for explaining more about this. It is a tricky subject, and we endeavor to present issues such as these as clearly and comprehensively as we can, and available data allows.


  2. That’s what I thought when I read this that the cobalt was allowed. That looks more to me like this new ownership of the three tracks is allowing drugs to be used as long as it is a certain amount. No wonder some of these horses drop dead either during a race or just after one.


  3. When a trainer administers a drug he knows is potential dangerous to the health and well being of their horse, he us not only a cheat, and a liar, but is admitting he is not as good a trainer as he is reprieved , needs to rely on drugs not his training ability, he us not worthy of trust he has been given, therefore his license should be revoked……………………………..


    1. Never ending problem Epona Spirit, just like every other sport where a huge amount of money and prestige is at stake. Except in this case, the horses cannot choose whether or not to take the drugs, or talk about what’s being done to them. What cowards these druggers with bloated egos are.


  4. Jane, you are the chemist. Why would they allow cobalt at all, never mind say what levels are acceptable? Is this substance used in milkshakes? I see there is a thyroid connection to this too. Thank you for your great posts on Baffert.


    1. Cobalt increases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Current methods usually involve stimulation of erythropoiesis (product of red blood cells) – like EPO-doping for example. EPO is a hormone that increases the number of circulating red cells in the blood.

      Cobalt, a transition metal, in its salt form as Cobalt Chloride is a chemical that induces hypoxia-like (low oxygen) condition which in turn initiates red blood cell formation, increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and therefore aerobic performance. Hypoxia activates a large number of genes that have essential roles in cell and tissue adaptation to conditions of low oxygen.

      An overload of Cobalt leads to oxidative damage which causes tissue damage and dysfunction. The liver, kidney, and heart accumulate cobalt to a greater extent, causing hepatotoxicity (liver), nephrotoxicity (kidney), organ damage and dysfunction. It also produces goitre and reduced thyroid activity. Due to the severity and often unpredictable side effects, cobalt chloride administration is nothing to play around with.


      1. Forgot to add. The reduced thyroid activity is interesting. Baffert was using Thyro-L which is prescribed for hypothyroidism. And given that cobalt can have severe cardiovascular issues, thickening of the blood etc. which can lead to cardiac arrest…..I wonder.


        1. This is maddening and downright criminal in my opinion. People debate on whether or not certain drugs are performance-enhancing. Aren’t they all to some extent? Or why would they be used. It clearly is not for the health of the horse. So these are clear cases of race fixing in my opinion.


        2. Administration of increased amounts of thyroxine can cause thyroid storm leading to cardiac failure, dehydration, confusion and death. Of course, it is not known whether Baffert’s horses were hypothyroid or euthyroid.

          It is amazing how creative these people can be when it comes to doing anything and everything to increase speed no matter the cost.


      2. Thank you Jane for explaining this to us. It is a wonder racehorses survive racing without serious health issues. No wonder racing favors horse slaughter, for the ones who cannot be rehabilitated after being subjected to these kind of atrocities once they can no longer race of of not fast enough. They just dump them to be killed. No muss, no fuss. Horse racing kills.


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