By: Richard Forristal

A commonly used supplement is understood to be at the centre of an investigation into the first positive test in Irish racing for the banned substance cobalt.

Warendorf, a point-to-point winner trained by Pat Kelly, the three-time Cheltenham Festival-winning handler whose Presenting Percy heads the betting for the 2019 Magners-backed Gold Cup, is at the centre of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s probe.

The five-year-old beat Burgess King, the only other finisher, by 30 lengths when winning at Belcare on March 11 and subsequently tested positive for the prohibited substance. He has since been sold to race in Britain.

Cobalt has emerged internationally as a contentious substance. It is a trace mineral found in B vitamins that exists naturally in small quantities in horses. However, similar to the well-known blood doping agent EPO, when administered in large quantities cobalt can increase red blood cells, which improves metabolic efficiency.

Last year Stephen McConville and his son Michael received three-year bans when Anseanachai Cliste tested positive for cobalt after they were found to have injected him with Hemo 15 – a cobalt-containing tonic widely used in Britain but not licensed in Ireland – on the day he was due to run in the Foxhunter at Cheltenham.

Anseanachai Cliste had won eight point-to-points before stewards ordered him to be withdrawn, and he then added a Downpatrick handicap chase before the positive finding was established.

However, the BHA panel concluded the McConvilles had not used Hemo 15 for the purposes of performance enhancement and that it would not be an effective method by which to enhance cobalt levels.

The Racing Post understands Hemo 15 is not at play in the case of Warendorf, but that another popular supplement is being investigated as the possible source of the positive reading, which is not believed to be massively above the established threshold level.

IHRB chief executive Denis Egan has refused to comment on the investigation until it is formally heard but, contacted on Wednesday, he welcomed the rubber-stamping of the new anti-doping policy at a HRI board meeting on Monday.

“We’re very pleased the agreement is now in place and that it forms the basis for out-of-competition testing, and testing at unlicensed premises in future,” he said.

He also reiterated that the new protocols would see the numbers of horses tested rise from 4,094 in 2017.

“There will be an increase, although I wouldn’t say it will increase significantly straight away,” he said. “The one great unknown is elective sales testing, as in what take-up there will be, but we’ll be budgeting for an increase in out-of-competition numbers next year. We’d expect it will significantly increase over time.”