In By a Nasal Strip: Association Gives Race OK to California Chrome

A few weeks before the grueling Belmont Stakes, all eyes were on the race's organizers, including the New York Racing Association, on how they would handle a budding controversy around a 4-by-6-inch adhesive patch worn on rising star California Chrome's nose. Ultimately, the groups gave in.

Horse racing fans can breathe easier ahead of the Belmont Stakes: California Chrome could still win the Triple Crown.

The stewards of the New York Racing Association (NYRA), the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC), and The Jockey Club decided on Monday to allow the horse to race on June 7, ducking a controversy around a horse who’s two-thirds of the way to winning the sport’s highest honor. More details on what happened:

Yes, yes, it works much the way human-sized nasal strips assist NFL players and people with sleep problems.

What the controversy stemmed from: The problem arose from a rule set by the NYRA, which puts on the race at the Belmont Stakes. The group’s Rule 4033.8 states: “Only equipment specifically approved by stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.” As the nasal strips, which California Chrome wore during his wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, had not been approved under this rule, the horse’s trainers might have decided not to let the horse run without the strip, which is believed to open up the horse’s airflow. (Yes, yes, it works much the way human-sized nasal strips assist NFL players and people with sleep problems.) This is the second time this controversy has arisen: In 2012, the horse I’ll Have Another was making a similar run when Belmont organizers told his trainer, Doug O’Neill, that the horse could not wear the strip. The point was made moot after I’ll Have Another suffered a leg injury and retired prior to the Belmont, according to the New York Daily News.

A vet’s opinion: Ultimately, the groups gave in on Monday, allowing the strips to be used by any horse taking part in the Belmont Stakes. In ruling on the decision, the three groups consulted with Scott E. Palmer, VDM, the NYSGC’s equine medical director, who found that the device offers some benefits but does not represent a performance-enhancing device. “While there is research to indicate that equine nasal strips decrease airway resistance in horses and may decrease the amount of bleeding associated with [an exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage] 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.” For its part, the NYRA’s president and CEO, Chris Kay, noted the association’s excitement that California Chrome would be allowed to participate in the race.

The nasal strip situation is actually somewhat modest compared to an earlier controversy around trainer Steve Asmussen, whose medical treatments came into question prior to this year’s Kentucky Derby. While his horse, Tapiture, ran in the race and was considered an early favorite, he could muster only a 15th-place finish.

California Chrome, left, shown at this year's Kentucky Derby wearing a nasal strip. (photo by Bill Brine/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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