UK investigation into possible positive test for cobalt under way

BHA director of integrity and raceday operations Brant Dunshea has revealed the regulator is investigating a possible positive cobalt test in Britain.

It was discovered as part of the BHA’s retrospective testing programme and found in a batch of around 400 from 2016.

Speaking to Racing UK’s Luck On Sunday programme, Dunshea said: “The overwhelming majority of samples that were retrospectively tested were negative, but there were some lines of inquiry we're following up in relation to that. We do have one matter under investigation.”

When pressed, he added: “I can’t speak about the specifics of the investigation but we do have one matter under investigation.”

Last autumn witnessed the first cobalt hearing in Britain after similar cases around the world, with trainer Stephen McConville and his son Michael, owner and intended rider of Anseanachai Cliste, disqualified for three years.

They admitted to injecting Anseanachai Cliste with a tonic which included cobalt at Cheltenham last March, although claimed they were unaware that the injections were potentially performance-enhancing.

Dunshea continued: “We had the case from Cheltenham last year, which in a lot of ways was a very disappointing thing to see at the races.

“What I'm very proud of is the way that was managed on the day, and the subsequent investigation and prosecution. You look at what is happening in other countries – there are so many positive findings for cobalt in Australia and on the continent. In context it reflects well on our industry here.”

Last year the BHA collected around 8,500 samples post-race and around 2,500 out-of-competition tests, an increase from 1,846 the previous year. Their pre-race tests increased from 235 in 2016 to nearly 700 in 2017.

“We never go into specifics of strategy," added Dunshea. "We've a random generator, which generates one horse that's selected each day at a fixture.

"We have some samples that are intelligence-led and have specific samples that are collected as a result of a horse’s performance in relation to the pattern races."

Cobalt is naturally present in horses but may have the potential to enhance performance when present at concentrations exceeding normal physiological parameters.

It has been proven to enhance the number of red cells in the blood which carry oxygen around the body, therefore helping to maintain peak performance for longer.