Frozen samples may send shivers down some spines

IT'S a tricky subject, this "elevated cobalt reading" issue.

It shouldn't be - at least moving forward.

The threshold for cobalt has been set at a mass concentration of 200 micrograms per litre in urine.

That rule became effective as early as April 14 last year in Victoria but took until January 1 this year to be written into the National Australian Rules of Racing.

An Australian Racing Board press release at the time stated: "A threshold level has been introduced into the Rules of Racing to recognise that cobalt can be present at very low levels when naturally occurring or as a result of routine nutritional sources."

It went on to state, "This threshold has been determined following a national survey of the racing horse population which measured cobalt levels in normal racehorses during training and racing.

"The threshold has been set at a level to allow for normal levels of cobalt supplementation through routine nutritional sources. However, trainers are advised that the administration - particularly by injection and on multiple occasions - of certain registered vitamin supplements close to racing may result in a level of cobalt in a subsequent sample that exceeds this threshold."

So the level was set at the start of this year and the warnings posted. Few can have any complaints about what happens next.

It's when looking back that the issue becomes confused.

Wade Birch, Racing Queensland's general manager of Stewarding and Integrity, stated in a press release on January 15 that following the emergence of the use of cobalt in harness racing in September 2013, "Our trainers were then made aware that Racing Queensland would be testing for cobalt in October 2013 and a number of samples from both thoroughbred and harness horses have been frozen since then in anticipation of the new threshold, which came into effect on January 1 this year."

Six possible cases are pending, depending on the outcome of the B-sample tests.

I certainly do want cheats caught, but with no clear-cut threshold in place at that time in Queensland, I was wondering how charges could be laid retrospectively, unless the cobalt readings were "off the chart" in a manner that would clearly make the trainer culpable - as in the case of New South Wales trainer Darren Smith, one of whose horses returned a readings of 6470 in the A-sample, and 6200 in the B-sample.

Again, there was no cobalt threshold at the time in NSW but, in proceeding with the case, NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy referred to Australian Racing Rules 177B (2) (l) and 178B.

The latter rule declares as prohibitive substances, those "capable at any time of causing either directly or indirectly an action or effect, or both an action and effect, within one or more of the following mammalian body systems".

It then goes on to list seven body systems and more than 30 "categories of substances".

So, possibly, that is the route Birch and his team will follow. Like I said, it's a tricky one.

Hopefully this particular investigation, which has such important connotations, can gather some speed, but we probably know better than that. It could be another long haul.

*Graham Potter is the managing editor of

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