Turf Club defends absence of tests for cobalt and milkshakes

Jim Bolger has been critical of the Turf Club's lack of action

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker ITC to implement cobalt and milkshake testing
By richard forristal 7:26AM 22 SEP 2016

IRISH racing's failure to test for excessive levels of cobalt and TCO2 – more commonly known as milkshaking – which has been heavily criticised by leading trainer Jim Bolger, is going to be tackled as a priority, according to the Turf Club's head of anti-doping, Dr Lynn Hillyer.

However, Hillyer was reluctant to put a timescale on when the Turf Club will be in a position to begin testing for two substances recognised as having performance-enhancing qualities that are tested for in other major racing nations.

Asked yesterday about the shortcoming in testing procedures, Bolger stridently expressed his disappointment on the issue.

"As racing in Ireland is at least as good as anywhere else in the world, the testing should be right up there with the best international standards, and we are not at the moment," he said.

"From my point of view, I wouldn't be settling for anything less. I would be disappointed with where we are on it, and I'd also be concerned about horses coming into Ireland from other jurisdictions to race."

Worldwide issue

Trainers Mark Kavanagh and Danny O'Brien are involved in contentious appeals following elevated cobalt readings in Australia, where in March Peter Moody walked away from the sport after incurring a six-month suspension for an unintentional cobalt violation.

Given the revelation South Africa has also now recorded its first positive results for cobalt and the authorities have opted not to impose any penalties due to a lack of intent, exercising caution on the matter is to some degree understandable.

Cobalt is a trace mineral found in B vitamins that exists naturally in small quantities in horses. Similar to the well-known blood doping agent EPO, cobalt can increase red blood cells, which improves metabolic efficiency.

Likewise, increased TCO2 levels indicate alkalinisation or sodium bicarbonate loading. Alkalinisation can be used as a method of neutralising lactic acid, and it is also believed to help mask illegal drugs in post-race testing.

"Testing for cobalt is now straightforward," conceded Hillyer, who doubles as the Turf Club's chief veterinary officer.

"What is more challenging, and equally – if not more – important, is that the Turf Club, like other horseracing regulators around the world, has appropriate systems in place to be able to clearly advise participants about what is safe and what isn't, and to be able to act effectively in the event of transgression."

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