The United States Trotting Association (USTA) announced Monday (June 16) that it will fund and work in partnership with Dr. George Maylin from the New York Drug Testing and Research Program at Morrisville State College to develop regulatory controls for the use of cobalt in race horses. Dr. Maylin will be assisted on the project by Director Dr. Karyn Malinowski and Associate Director Dr. Ken McKeever from the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University.
"It has become obvious that in all racing breeds the presence of cobalt is being detected,” said USTA President Phil Langley in making the announcement. "Since it is a naturally occurring substance, the question that arises is when is the amount natural and when is it added to a horse's system to enhance performance. We believe this research will give all breeds a standard that will withstand any court challenges.”
Dr. Maylin initiated discussions with the USTA and Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York and a USTA director.
"I spoke to Phil Langley at the USTA and to Joe Faraldo, who was instrumental in carrying the message of what we had to do and the role that the USTA will play,” said Dr. Maylin.
"Cobalt has been rumored to be used with horses for a number of years,” added Dr. Maylin. "It started perhaps six or seven years ago. So we started delving into the literature and did research. It became apparent that cobalt was getting widespread use, but only recently has there been concern in horses.”
With the results of his findings, there were two major challenges for Dr. Maylin. The first was to find equipment that could accurately test for cobalt and then to obtain the funding for the research.
"I took the initiative on this project because I needed the money to fund it,” explained Dr. Maylin. "We needed an instrument to analyze for cobalt because the conventional instruments can't test for it. We now have a state-of-the-art instrument, the Agilent 8800 Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectometer ICP-MS, that we are going to get access to lease for five years and have a way to pay for it, thanks to the USTA.”
Dr. Maylin, who hopes to present the results of his research to the New York State Gaming Commission by the end of this summer, has already begun work with Dr. Malinowski and Dr. McKeever from Rutgers.
"Dr. Malinowski has been very instrumental in getting access to control horses that I couldn't have gotten without her,” said Dr. Maylin. "And Dr. McKeever will be looking at pharmacology. He was instrumental in EPO pharmacology and he will do the same with cobalt.
"We know what we have to do; we know how to do it; now we have to get a statistical analysis,” concluded Dr. Maylin.
As early as the 1930s, cobalt was reported to stimulate red blood cell production. It was used as a treatment for different types of anemia in humans. However, its toxicity to the thyroid and heart limited the use in doses required to stimulate red blood cell production. It is now known that cobalt stimulates the production of erythropoietin (EPO) to produce red blood cells.
In spite of its toxicities, cobalt is reportedly being used by humans and on equine athletes to improve athletic performance by increasing red blood cells and oxygen-carrying capacity. (USTA)