Research funded by the United States Trotting Association (USTA) into cobalt has resulted in a regulatory testing threshold of 70 parts per billion, the organization said Sept. 30. The threshold is almost three times higher than the level being used for blood tests in Indiana.

Cobalt is a naturally occurring element in horses and is present in vitamin B-12 and related nutritional supplements. Excessive levels, however, can stimulate production of red blood cells and could impact racehorse performance, officials have said.

The USTA earlier this year contracted with George Maylin, DVM, PhD, of the New York Drug Testing and Research Program at Morrisville State College to determine at what level cobalt ceases being considered a naturally occurring substance and becomes performance-enhancing. His work was assisted by Karyn Malinowski, PhD, and Ken McKeever, MS, PhD, FACSM, director and associate director, respectively, of the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Phil Langley, USTA president, in a release said he believes the recommended threshold of 70 parts per billion is "reasonable" and would deter individuals that administer excessive levels of cobalt to racehorses.

"With substances that are a natural constituent of a horse like cobalt, there is always a fine line between catching the cheaters and protecting innocent horsemen from violation," Langley said. "These scientists worked hard to achieve a proper balance, which should serve as a guidepost for the rest of the industry."

The latest threshold level is considerably higher than the one adopted Sept. 4 by the Indiana Horse Racing Com