Fresh cobalt science doesn’t reach Racing Australia

Equine Veterinarians of Australia president Dr Sam Nugent says he's aware of science that suggests cobalt "bound to vitamin B12" does not enhance performance, despite recommending that Racing Australia maintains its tough stance on the notorious substance.

The national racing authority last month reaffirmed its position in respect to cobalt on the advice of its veterinarians and analysts committee (VAC) and a letter from Dr Nugent, which stated he wasn't aware of any peer reviewed scientific evidence published since 2015 that contradicts RA's position.

In a media release last month, RA stated that its VAC advised "at doses higher than the nutritional requirements for B12 production, cobalt has been demonstrated to stimulate erythropoiesis [red blood cell production] in mammals."

However, Dr Nugent admitted he was aware of a recent study by equine surgeon Derek Major in regards to cobalt's lack of performance-enhancing qualities inside vitamin B12.

But when asked whether he mentioned that science in his response to Racing Australia, Dr Nugent said he hadn't.

"I think Derek Major's results show that it doesn't [enhance performance] because cobalt and B12 is bound to the B12 and doesn't bind to the red cells, if I'm reading Derek's work correctly," he said.

"Our letter did say we are not aware of any irrefutable evidence that would lead us to insist that Racing Australia change their position. Derek's doing some research but I don't think any of it's concrete."

Meanwhile, the analytical chemist and statistician who developed Racing Australia's original cobalt threshold said it's possible to distinguish between cobalt in vitamin B12 and cobalt chloride.

Emeritus Professor Brynn Hibbert, who developed the original cobalt threshold of 200ug/L, remains comfortable that cobalt readings over 100ug/L – which is also internationally recognised as the threshold – should be regarded by authorities as abnormal.

Racing Australia says "in the period 1 September 2016 to September 2019, 42,477 urine tests nationally have produced an average result of 5.1ug/L and only 59 positive samples (0.14%)", which Prof Hibbert said justifies his threshold.

But he said testing methods do not distinguish between cobalt chloride and cobalt bound in vitamin B12, despite such a test existing.

"[But] the Rules of Racing talk about cobalt, that's all they mention, the word cobalt," he said.

"The way that we analyse for cobalt gives us all of the cobalt that is in the sample whether it was originally there as cobalt chloride, if it was there as vitamin B12, or anything else with cobalt in it.

"The method we use … essentially just destroys the sample and just pulls out the cobalt and it's that cobalt that we measure."

Racing Australia chairman Greg Nichols said he was yet to receive scientific proof that cobalt bound in vitamin B12 was not performance enhancing.

"If there are new studies, you never back yourself into a corner because ultimately there may be someone who comes forward that disputes it," Nichols said of the current cobalt rules.

"But at this stage with the evidence that we're confronted with, we're extremely confident our decision is the right one and not only to the conformity to the internationals but on the basis the EVA themselves have confirmed there's no exception to the Rule of Racing we've enacted."

Nichols said vitamin B12 was not an illegal supplement under the Rules of Racing.

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