Breach of cobalt threshold likely to see Balnaslow stripped of Aintree success

POSTED ON  |  04-01-2019

The cobalt controversy that has plagued British and Irish racing over the past 18 months could claim its highest profile winner as it has emerged as the substance that could see leading hunter chaser Balnaslow stripped of his Aintree Foxhunters' success. The Graham McKeever-trained 12-year-old finished second in the 2017 Foxhunters' before going one better last year when recording a poignant victory under Derek O’Connor, months after the death of Balnaslow’s owner Peggy Hagan. However, George Barlow, who owns the runner-up Bear’s Affair, indicated at Cheltenham on Tuesday that he was awaiting official confirmation that his horse would be awarded the race.

While the BHA has still to conclude its investigation nine months on, it is understood that Balnaslow faces being disqualified after testing positive for elevated levels of cobalt. When contacted by the Racing Post, McKeever did not want to comment while the case was ongoing, and the BHA has stated that it does not comment on "potential investigations".

Since the spring of 2016 when the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) established a threshold of 100 nanograms of cobalt per millilitre in urine and 25ng/ml in plasma, subsequent breaches have seen four track and point-to-point winners – trained by Shark Hanlon, Pat Kelly, Mikey O'Connor and Joseph O'Brien – disqualified in Ireland. In Britain, McKeever's fellow Northern Ireland-based colleague Stephen McConville and his son Michael were hit with three-year bans after Anseanachai Cliste tested positive for cobalt at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.

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