By Claire Watson
At least two Western Australian trainers are under suspension after their horses returned positive swabs of the banned, performance enhancing substance cobalt.
Sharon Taylor in thoroughbred racing and Bruce Stanley in harness racing have pleaded guilty to racing a horse with prohibited levels of cobalt chloride.
Taylor, who is facing her second cobalt charge, showed to have a horse with one and a half times the allowed limit.
The harsh penalties come after a string of inquiries into trainers across the country, with one harness trainer in Sydney facing a 15 year suspension.
Some experts are suggesting even the permitted levels of the substance can be harmful, leading to concerns about the amounts of cobalt found in many commonly used and easily accessible supplements.
Donna Colvin from Serpentine Veterinary Hospital says that cobalt was a known performance enhancer long before the inquiries began.
“Everyone has been using it because no one has been swabbing for it. Now that it is being put under the microscope we need to know at what level, if any, it is safe to use as a performance supplement.”
Known in the industry as ‘blue’ or ‘altitude’, accusations of misusing cobalt have involved some of the biggest names in Australian racing, including Black Caviar’s trainer, Peter Moody, and top Caulfield trainer, Mark Kavanaugh.
Local thoroughbred trainer Tracey Diederich says that trainers need to take responsibility for understanding supplements and how to use them safely and fairly.
“It’s our job to know what and how much of everything we are putting into our stock … a slow horse is still faster than a dead horse.”
Comparisons have been made to the banned substance etorphine, or elephant juice, which was shown to cause heart failure in many racehorses.
Following the deaths of two runners in last year’s Melbourne Cup, the public image of racing is at an all-time low.
Racing officials are now feeling the pressure to show action is being taken against trainers who may be jeopardizing their horses’ welfare by experimenting with performance enhancers such as cobalt.
The stewards’ inquiry report into Sharon Taylor is available here.