Cobalt Chloride its ability to make a horse run faster, longer makes those whose sense of greed outweighs their common sense continue its use. No horse anywhere in the world should have to suffer the effects of low speed.
Cobalt has the same properties as EPO, used by cheats in professional cycling and athletics to sustain their performance with the aid of elevated counts of red blood cells that carry oxygen. Cobalt tricks the body into producing extra red cells. The downside relates to its side effects. Thickening of the blood, heart and thyroid issues and tumours are just some of the problems connected with its use. It is no less deadly in horses.
Cobalt is part of a horse’s normal diet. It is both naturally and artificially present in hay, grain and supplements. The dosage is minimal and well inside 200 micrograms per litre of urine. Horses having cobalt salts or cobalt chloride administered will produce readings above 1000 micrograms.
Cobalt had been difficult to test for as it has a small window of a matter of hours (4-6) where it was present. Horses given cobalt are good for only a handful of runs at best. Performance tapers after that, some collapse and die during exercise.
US racing journalist Ray Paulick has written extensively on the topic. A vet gave cobalt to a horse, telling the trainer’s vet it would make it ‘‘run like a beast’’. A frightening description of a horse being injected and having a reaction seems a regular occurrence. The animal’s heart rate climbed and breathing was four-times faster than the normal rate.
After five minutes, things calmed down and the horse won.
The first the gallops code in Australia really became aware of cobalt was when Racing NSW produced a rash of positives last year to Newcastle trainer Darren Smith. That case is ongoing as is the one involving father-and-son training combination Lee and Shannon Hope. They have three positive samples.