Dr Nick Kannegieter, a registered specialist in equine surgery, an
adjunct Associate Professor at Charles Sturt University, and chairman
Australian Veterinary insurance Advisory Committee and who consults at
the Warwick Farm Equine Centre, said the spate of recent cobalt positive
was a "massive overreaction to some minor scientific papers that are
Kannegieter, speaking on Radio TAB's 'Racing Active' show last December,
said the view held by some people that cobalt acts like EPO is
"completely erroneous". He said suggestions that cobalt is the latest
'go-fast' drug' are wrong.
"Cobalt has no performance-enhancing effect whatsoever, no matter how
much you give it or when you give it," Kannegieter told 'Racing Active'.
"It has no performance-enhancing effect, it is a nothing drug."
Kannegieter said he has not encountered a veterinarian who disagrees with
his opinion. He added there is "100 percent agreement that it does
nothing. There is no evidence it works."
Kannegieter said cobalt is an essential micronutrient for horses and
without it they can't survive. "It has to be in your diet and as part of
that it has found its way into quite a range of nutritional supplements,"
he said. "For many, many, years people have been supplementing horses
with cobalt. It has never done any harm. It helps horses that are under
He said given the amount of cobalt that is in the diet of horses and the
variation of how it is administered there is always the "risk" that some
horses may end up with slightly higher levels of cobalt.
With so many trainers across Australia now embroiled in cobalt cases,
Kannegieter said a lot more needs to be done in evaluating the testing
procedure and why "these trainers with excellent records-Kevin Moses and
Peter Moody is coming up-are getting caught up over a medication that has
absolutely no effect and does nothing to the performance of the horses".
The Australian Racing Board followed the lead of Racing Victoria by
introducing, on January 1, 2015 a threshold level of 200 micrograms per
litre of urine, a threshold that Kannegieter viewed as "very low". He
said there are a lot of factors that may affect the urinary level of
cobalt, including dehydration. "There may be other factors that push up
the cobalt level in horses," Kannegieter said.
"And, measuring the level of any medication in urine is fraught with
danger. There are a lot of issues affected. It may well be that innocent
people are getting caught because this threshold is a little bit too
With a mandatory three-year disqualification for any trainer who is found
guilty of administering cobalt for the purpose of affecting the
performance of a horse in a race, Kannegieter said he didn't believe such
an offence warranted a disqualification.
"There is a huge grey area and that grey area, I believe, needs to be
explored. I think that in terms of penalty for this grey area there
should be some more thought given to that. In my opinion it doesn't
warrant disqualification in that grey area for one-off offences, it
doesn't warrant the ramifications for the trainers and their staff and
their clients and their reputation that other more serious drugs might.
"There are a lot of positive swabs to a lot of weird and wonderful drugs
and they haven't been dealt with as serious as this cobalt. It is way too
much for a very innocuous substance."
Kannegieter said if cobalt was to have an effect-and he doesn't believe
it does-then it needs time to effect the red blood cells. "Having high
cobalt on race day does nothing," he said. "To have an elevated cobalt on
race day even if through some magical means it did boost red blood cell
production on race day it is not an advantage. There is no sense in
having a horse with a high level on race day."
"Why take the risk on giving a medication that is not going to work
and is being viewed as being the greatest go fast since elephant juice
and take all the risks that getting a positive swab to cobalt would? It
doesn't make any sense."