BALTIMORE – A victory away from horse racing's first Triple Crown in 36 years, trainer Art Sherman at least raised the possibility Sunday morning that California Chrome might not run in the June 7 Belmont Stakes in New York if racing officials there won't let him wear the nasal strip he's worn in his last six victories in a row.
The nasal strips, designed to enhance breathing, are similar to ones used by humans. Sherman said California Chrome started wearing them six races ago at the suggestion of co-owner Perry Martin.
"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," said Sherman, a day after his horse followed up his Kentucky Derby win with a victory in the Preakness.
"The horse has been on a six (race) winning streak with a nasal strip. I don't know why they would ban you from wearing one. But we'll have to cross that bridge when we get there I guess."
Martin and his family did not attend the Preakness. Co-owner Steve Coburn said it was because the Martin was upset with the hospitality in Kentucky during the Derby weekend.
"I want to tell you something. It would be very questionable that he (Martin) could say, 'Hey, I don't understand why they won't let me run (in New York). Maybe they don't want us there.' "
In 2012, I'll Have Another was the last horse to win the Derby and Preakness. He had worn nasal strips but his handlers were told he couldn't wear one in the Belmont. They were preparing to do so until I'll Have Another was scratched with a leg injury the day before the race.
At that time, the Daily Racing Form reported that stewards at New York Racing Association tracks did not allow nasal strips for thoroughbreds. It said it was not a New York State Racing and Wagering Board rule but a decision by the race stewards.
"We just put it on because he (Martin) is kind of a guy that likes to test (things)," said Sherman. "He thinks it's really beneficial. … I don't know what the deal is (in New York). I heard about it today.
"All over the country, they let you wear them. Why would New York not?"
Added Sherman, "That might be a little interesting if Perry Martin says, 'Well, if I can't go, I guess I'll go to the Los Alamitos Derby (in July in California). …. Orange County might be a little overcrowded that day."
So will or won't California Chrome be permitted to wear the strips in the Belmont? The New York State Gaming Commission responded to Sherman's comments with a statement that did not answer that.
"Neither the New York State Gaming Commission or the Stewards at Belmont Park have received a request to use nasal strips in the June 7 Belmont Stakes," said the emailed statement.
"If a request to use nasal strips is made, the decision on whether to permit them or not will be fully evaluated and determined by the Stewards."
The commission said that was in accordance with its Rule 4033.8, which states: "Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race."
In New York, harness horses are allowed to use the nasal strips.
"The horse has been running with it with it and a lot of horses all over California wear them all the time. You might see three or four horses in a race wearing them. They don't say anything about them. Maryland lets you use them," said Sherman.
Sherman said California Chrome has been using a Flair nasal strip.
On the website of Flair Equine Nasal Strips, it says: "Flair Strips are self-adhesive strips that promote optimum respiratory health of equine athletes at all levels by reducing airway resistance and providing improved airflow when your horse needs oxygen most. … (They provide) benefits for all horses including intensively trained horses as well as for horses that only exert themselves during occasional weekend competitions or trail rides."
Sherman said he'll contact New York officials and discuss the situation with his owners.
Really, might California Chrome not run a race that could make him the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978?
"I can't call that," said Sherman. "I'd have to leave it up to the owners. But I know they'll be upset."
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