Cal Expo Stewards Suspend Trainer with History of Cobalt Use

The stewards at Cal Expo, a harness racing track located in Sacramento, California, issued an interim suspension on Jan. 30 to trainer Marissa Tyler after tests revealed that a number of Standardbreds in her barn had cobalt levels.

The stewards conducted an ex parte hearing Jan. 29 following a California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) investigation that included both out-of-competition testing and post-race testing of all horses trained by Tyler.

The CHRB has filed three complaints against Tyler, and other matters are pending. As a result, and presented with additional evidence, the stewards took steps to protect the public by issuing the interim suspension pending the final disposition of the violations alleged in the petition, as permitted by Business and Professions Code section 494. Additionally, the stewards placed all 21 horses in Tyler’s barn on the Stewards List, making them ineligible to start. The horses that tested high for cobalt also have been placed on the Veterinarians List, making them ineligible to start until such time as they test within allowable cobalt limits cobalt.

While cobalt is an essential element that is present in vitamin B-12, normal vitamin B-12 administrations do not produce high cobalt readings. Low concentrations of cobalt salts also are found in routine feed and vitamin/mineral supplements, but when used properly, those sources do not cause high cobalt readings. There never has been cobalt deficiency documented in the horse that would require cobalt administrations.

When administered in high doses, cobalt is potentially performance enhancing and a proven horse welfare concern. For these reasons, California and most other racing jurisdictions in the United States and internationally have established restrictions on cobalt levels.

Under CHRB Rule 1843.2, cobalt over 25 nanograms (ng) per milliliter (ml) of blood, but not exceeding 50 ng/ml, is a Class 4 substance with a Category C penalty. A category C violation carries a minimum fine of $500 to a maximum fine of $1000 for a first offense. Category C penalties often recognize the possibility of inadvertent or negligent use of an otherwise therapeutic substance.

Cobalt in excess of 50ng/ml indicates intentional administration of cobalt, so it is a Class 3 substance with a Category B penalty. A Class 3 substance requires the disqualification of the horse and the redistribution of the purse. A Category B penalty holds the trainer and/or other responsible licensees subject to a fine of not less than $500 or more than $10,000 and a minimum 30-day suspension for the first offense. Penalties in both categories increase rapidly with subsequent offenses.

Tyler first came to the attention of the CHRB on Dec. 14, 2015 when the representatives from the University of California, Davis, Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory notified the board that a post-race blood sample collected Nov. 28, 2015 from a horse trained by Tyler, Young American, contained 30 ng/ml of cobalt, slightly above the 25 ng limit. Young American finished first in the fifth race that night. This was one of the three complaints filed by the CHRB.

Young American ran back on Dec. 19, before the board could take any action and again tested high for cobalt, this time at 124 ng, well above the 50ng level. Young American ran second in that race.

The third complaint stems from a cobalt overage of 132 ng collected from a different horse trained by Tyler, Quantum Uptown Boy, who finished second in the first race at Cal Expo on Jan. 2.

All of these races were run during a harness meet operated by Watch & Wager.

Hearings are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 12.

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