By Jason Keidel
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The most notable nose in sports gets a reprieve. And we can all breathe a little easier.
The first time I ever saw a breathing strip was on Neil Smith, the pass-rushing behemoth for the Kansas City Chiefs. Football and horse racing have little in common other than they have infinitely more to worry about than gauze glued across your nose.
So now California Chrome visits the Big Apple, bandaged nostrils and all, to grace or tease us with eternity.
In the ’70s, Triple Crowns were as prevalent as pigeons squatting in the stands. Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed gave the sport and our city a false sense of redundancy.
Thirty-six years later, we’re reduced to grainy, opaque montages and nostalgia. And while some of us were alive for the aforementioned horses, we weren’t old enough to appreciate them.
Big Brown had the physique and aura of an icon, but we know how that went. Now we’re watching a smaller horse become larger than life. California Chrome wasn’t raised by the blue bloods of Kentucky, the old, Southern aristocrats that normally churn out the chalk. As much as a horse can crossover to human interest, we have it here.
Then we had this silly theater, with the racing suits threatening to rip the strips off California Chrome’s nose, wrecking the chance of a Triple Crown for another year, if not another decade.
The chieftains of enterprise are often their own worst enemies. And peripheral sports can’t afford self-inflicted wounds. Just ask the NHL, whose gratuitous work stoppages have relegated hockey to the low end of the Nielsen needle. Horse racing can’t afford the same when we only watch thrice a year, at best.
“Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a threat to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated,” New York State Gaming Commission Equine Medical Doctor Scott E. Palmer wrote. Not sure you had to be a veterinarian to see or say that, but the decision is sound.
Even plodding, Big Brother bureaucracies like NYRA and the Gaming Commission can see the logic, decency, and dollars in allowing California Chrome race at Belmont on June 7. It doesn’t take a jeweler’s eye to see that 100,000 throaty, beer-and-gambling drunk customers on race day beats half that number, the regulars who could be there in a blizzard. Not to mention millions watching on NBC, who could use some eyes on the Peacock.
Horse racing, like all sports, is a business, and that business is entertainment. Ratings and box office figures always figure into the bottom-line algorithm. They need this, especially to draw the peripheral observers, like yours truly, who want to say we saw something essential.
And we need this. The Yankees are a walking triage and the Mets are, well, the Mets. Both pro basketball courts are shuttered and we don’t have honest, earnest football until September.
So now New York City has something to cherish. At least a chance to see immortality. Now you have the healthy quandary of choosing between the track, pub or your house for some must-watch finality.
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