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Exhale! California Chrome Gets OK To Race With Nasal Strip At Belmont

Triple Crown Bid Was In Danger Of Being Derailed By 'Nasalgate'
California Chrome #3, ridden by Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line to win the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Jim Dietz/Getty Images)

California Chrome #3, ridden by Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line to win the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Jim Dietz/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — California Chrome might have abandoned his Triple Crown bid if New York officials refused to allow the colt to wear a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes.

But racing fans can exhale. “Nasalgate” has come to a quick — and satisfying — conclusion.

Trainer Art Sherman made no threats about the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner passing on a chance to become horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner, but he suggested on Sunday that it was a possibility.

“I’d have to leave it up to the owners,” he said. “I know they’ll be upset.”

The OK for California Chrome — or any other horse — to wear nasal strips at Belmont Park came in a unanimous ruling announced Monday by the New York State Gaming Commission.

“California Chrome will be permitted to use nasal strips when he competes at the 146th Belmont Stakes on June 7, 2014,” the Gaming Commission said in a statement.

Sherman Racing Stables tweeted that California Chrome would indeed be participating in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

NYS Gaming Commission equine medical director Scott Palmer recommended a discontinuation of the ban on nasal strips in a letter to racing brass.

“Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated,” Palmer wrote. “While there is research to indicate that equine nasal strips decrease airway resistance in horses and may decrease the amount of bleeding associated with EIPH to some degree, I am unfamiliar with any research indicating that equine nasal strips enable a horse to run faster with nasal strips than without them. In other words, there is no evidence they have a performance enhancing effect.”

The Gaming Commission said it requested Palmer’s input after being contacted by Sherman on Sunday.

“The Stewards considered Dr. Palmer’s advice and thus determined to specifically approve the unregulated use of the nasal strips pursuant to N.Y.S. Gaming Commission Rule 4033.8,” the statement said.

Among the Gaming Commission’s rules governing Belmont Park is one that states: Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.

California Chrome has worn a nasal strip during his current six-race winning streak after co-owner Perry Martin wanted to try it. Sherman is based in California and said he wasn’t aware that using one in New York might be a problem.

Some horses, like humans, wear nasal strips to assist breathing. The colt wears the strip only during races, not training.

At 1 ½ miles, the Belmont is the longest and most grueling of the three Triple Crown races.

“I think it opens up his air passage and gives him that little extra oomph that he needs, especially going a mile and a half,” Sherman said Sunday. “Anytime you can have a good air passage, that means a lot for these thoroughbreds.”

Sherman said Martin likes to try different products and the co-owner thought a nasal strip might benefit California Chrome.

“This guy, Perry Martin, he might not run if they say you can’t run with a nasal strip. He’s very funny about things like that,” the trainer said.

Other states allow nasal strips while racing, and even some jockeys wear them.

“It’s something nonmedical that can be beneficial to a workout or a race,” California-based trainer Doug O’Neill said by phone. “If you think your horse could use some help with their nostrils, you do it.”

Two years ago, O’Neill trained I’ll Have Another to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with the colt wearing a nasal strip. New York officials told O’Neill that his horse couldn’t wear one in the Belmont. The issue became moot when I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before the race because of a leg injury.

“I can’t imagine them being that ignorant that they would do that again,” O’Neill said before the ruling. “New York has gotten a lot better with common sense. It seems like a more rational place now.”

NYRA has several new officials since 2012, including Martin Panza, the former racing secretary at now-closed Betfair Hollywood Park in California who now oversees racing operations at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.

Sherman said California Chrome came out of Saturday’s Preakness in good shape, emptying his feed tub after the race.

The colt playfully nibbled on his leather shank outside the barn as his two front legs were washed off Sunday. A worker removed a poultice from each lower front leg, which had been applied under bandages as a precaution to protect the colt’s tendons.

Sherman thinks California Chrome will win the Triple Crown, something no horse has done since Affirmed in 1978.

“I have a good feeling about it. I’m really confident,” he said. “They better have their running shoes on. I don’t care how many fresh shooters they have. He’s the real McCoy.”

The Belmont Stakes is shaping up as a possible 11-horse race, including two newcomers to the Triple Crown trail: Commissioner, sixth in the Arkansas Derby; and Tonalist, the Peter Pan Stakes winner.

Other probables include the second- through fifth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby: Commanding Curve, Danza, Wicked Strong and Samraat. Intense Holiday, 12th in the Derby, is on the list.

Three Preakness runners could return: Ride On Curlin (second), Social Inclusion (third) and Kid Cruz (eighth).

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