Day At The Track

State to release more details on suspensions

07:59 AM 04 Jun 2016 NZST
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The Maine State Harness Racing Commission plans on Friday afternoon to release more details about the cases of seven people who have been suspended or fined by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for supplying cobalt to their horses, according to a report by Portland TV station WCSH.

The seven are drivers, trainers or owners of horses and some are appealing the rulings, according to the report.

The use of cobalt is banned, as it improves endurance, according to a report on, and can cause severe side effects in horses.

Steven Vafiades of Corinth was hit the hardest for penalties, as he has been suspended 450 days and must repay $23,000 in purse money. He also has been fined $2,250.

Others who received suspensions of 450 days were Randy Bickmore, Patricia Switzer and Stephen Murchison.

Longtime driver Drew Campbell of Scarborough, who has more 3,500 career victories, was suspended for 270 days. He also was fined $1,250 and must repay $2,150 in purse money.

Bickmore, Switzer and Murchison were each fined $2,250, and each must repay purse money ranging from $4,000 to almost $11,000.

Allison McDonald was ordered to repay $1,250 in purse money, and Frank Hiscock must repay $1,200.

The penalties for Bickmore, Campbell, Vafiades and Switzer were apparently handed down by the Maine Harness Racing Commission in February. The commission is part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

A report by on March 6 said it received a penalty summary for those four people from Henry Jennings, the commission’s acting executive director.

Although issues with the use of cobalt in horse racing reportedly surfaced as early as 2013, the misuse of the chemical appears to have increased dramatically during 2015. That is the time frame in which the seven Maine harness racing trainers/drivers were found to have abused the substance in their horses.

In April, the New York State Gaming Commission levied what were termed unprecedented penalties against six Standardbred horse trainers who had administered doses of cobalt that were deemed potentially dangerous and performance-enhancing in nature.

Those trainers are to be suspended or have their licenses revoked entirely and each has been fined at least $25,000, according to a report in the Daily Racing Forum.

The cobalt levels in horses trained by three of the individuals were deemed to be so serious that those individuals will be banned from harness racing for 10 years.

The violations involving the six New York trainers occurred at Monticello Casino and Raceway, Saratoga Casino and Raceway and Yonkers Raceway during March 2016.

The New York State Gaming Commission also has referred the violations to law enforcement, opening the door for possible animal cruelty charges.

According to, cobalt is a substance that occurs as part of the vitamin B12 complex and is present naturally in horses at low levels. However, it gained attention as a performance enhancer in horses because it stimulates the production of the hormone erythropoietin, which promotes the formation of red blood cells. The result is better endurance and decreased muscle fatigue.

However, high doses of cobalt can have major health ramifications for horses. It can produce abnormal sweating, anxiety and trembling. A study by Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission equine medical director, found that high doses of cobalt also interfere with the clotting of blood.

Reprinted with permission of The Bangor Daily News

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