By Ray Paulick
While Indiana is the only American racing jurisdiction to adopt rules regulating cobalt levels in Thoroughbreds, stewards at Oaklawn Park have put all of the horses from trainer Kenny Smith’s racing stable on the vet’s list after four runners from his barn tested for elevated levels of the substance that many believe has blood doping properties.
Smith, with the second-highest number of starters during the current meet, has not had a runner since March 1. He has won seven races from 66 starts at Oaklawn this year.
Oaklawn, which contracts with Truesdail Laboratories in Tustin, Calif., began random testing for cobalt this year.
“It’s not a test of every sample, but once or twice a week we are testing winners or several other horses,” said state steward Stan Bowker. “Of all that we’ve tested, and we are probably close to 100, the norm (for cobalt) is between two and six parts per billion, which is very much in line with what other jurisdictions have seen. If any horses tests over 10 – between 10 and 25 parts per billion – we call in the trainer and give them a heads-up that their cobalt is high and they need to check with their vet or review their feed program or supplements. It’s a courtesy call.”
Bowker said two horses from Smith’s barn initially tested over 100, followed by two more at 100-plus parts per billion.
“We asked Kenny not to enter any more horses until all the horses in his barn have been tested and they are under 25, including the four that were over 100,” Bowker said. “The whole barn was put on the vet’s list.
“There is no penalty involved because we don’t have a specific rule,” Bowker added, adding that the Arkansas Racing Commission is awaiting recommendations from the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and a model rule from the Association of Racing Commissioners International. “But we feel doing this is in the interest of fairness to all the horses, because everyone else has been able to keep their cobalt at a reasonable and acceptable level.”
Bowker said Smith had no explanation for the extreme levels.
“He had two different vets,” Bowker said, “and both are now working with him to look at everything they are doing to make sure there is no problem. Both of the vets have 20 to 30 clients here and they haven’t had problems with any of those clients.”
Trainers and veterinarians were notified prior to the start of the 2015 Oaklawn Park meeting that cobalt levels would be tested.
“This is the first year Arkansas has had the national uniform medication rules, so we went over all the thresholds, withdrawal times and recommended dosage for therapeutic medications,” Bowker said. “We have not had one positive during the meet like we had in Indiana this year (where Bowker also works as a steward). At the same time we went through those rules, we also told them about the cobalt testing.”
Indiana enacted emergency regulations on cobalt last year, setting the threshold at 25 parts per billion after covert testing showed likely random abuse in Thoroughbred, Quarter horse and Standardbred racing. Since those regulations were put in place, overages for cobalt have been rare.
Bowker said it is up to Smith when the stable will be re-tested for cobalt.
A third-generation horseman born in Oklahoma, Smith, 61, has 995 career wins from 6,250 starts. He is best known as trainer of multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire Silver Goblin.