California Chrome’s team might have to chose between Belmont, nasal strips

Posted at 3:12 PM, May 18, 2014
California Chrome at 2014 Kentucky Derby, Photo Credit: Bill Brine via MGN Online.

California Chrome at 2014 Kentucky Derby, Photo Credit: Bill Brine via MGN Online.

By Steve Almasy


(CNN) — California Chrome has worn nasal strips during victories in the first two events of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, but he might have to compete at the Belmont Stakes without one, if he competes at all.

Trainer Art Sherman said California Chrome, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, might be held from the race if the 3-year-old horse is not allowed to wear the strips across his nose that help improve breathing.

When asked about a reported New York rule against it, Sherman said, “The horse has been on a six-race winning streak with nasal strips. 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.”

The New York State Gaming Commission, which regulates horse racing in the state, said the decision would be up to officials at the state’s racing association.

“Neither the New York State Gaming Commission nor the stewards at the New York Racing Association have received a request to use nasal strips in the June 7 Belmont Stakes,” the commission said in a written 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.”

In 2012, I’ll Have Another also won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but his owners were told the nasal strips were prohibited in New York, several media outlets reported. The horse was unable to run because of a leg injury that ended the colt’s career.

Sherman said the decision would be up to co-owner 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,” Sherman said.

Nasal strips keep a horse’s airway from becoming smaller during strenuous activity, the Flair Equine Nasal Strips website says.

“By reducing airway resistance during exercise, Flair strips help prevent fatigue related injuries, help protect the lungs from injury and bleeding and promote optimal athletic performance,” the site says.

Saturday’s big win

If California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes, he’ll be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to achieve the ultimate feat in thoroughbred racing.

The colt won the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on Saturday with a burst at the homestretch.

With Victor Espinoza riding, the heavily favored horse held off a hard-charging Ride On Curlin and eight other horses to take the second jewel in the Triple Crown. Social Inclusion finished third.

“It is an awesome feeling to be able to have a horse like California Chrome,” Espinoza told NBC Sports after the race. “It was just a crazy race … I got more tired mentally than physically riding him. But it worked out well, and he’s just an amazing horse.”

Sherman described California Chrome in no uncertain terms: “Pure and simple, he’s a rock star.” The 77-year-old trainer said the horse loves posing for pictures and the buzz of the track.

After the race, Sherman had tears rolling out from under his dark sunglasses.

“I knew we had to run harder this race,” he told NBC. “He’s a real racehorse, and I’m hoping that the mile and half [in Belmont] is up his alley, too… It’s a dream for any trainer to do this.”

A former bus driver in his native Mexico City, Espinoza, 41, has ridden in the Preakness six times, including on War Emblem in 2002. After winning both the Derby and Preakness that year, War Emblem finished eighth in the Belmont Stakes.

Of the 38 horses that won the Derby and Preakness, only 11 went on to victory in the Belmont Stakes, which is the longest of the Triple Crown races.

Bought for $8,000

The winning colt even has his own official Twitter handle: @calchrome. After the race came this tweet: “Start spreading the news #Chromies we are going to New York!”

California Chrome was delivered by a mare named Love the Chase that Steve Coburn and Martin bought for $8,000 with a view to breeding. She was bred to the stallion Lucky Pulpit for a reduced fee of $2,000, the first breeding the novice pair had ever undertaken. Their offspring had earned Coburn and Perry more than $2.3 million in prize money before the Preakness, also chalking up wins at the Santa Anita Derby, San Felipe Stakes and California Cup Derby.

California Chrome is being compared by some to Seabiscuit, the beloved, undersized bay who — though he never competed in a Triple Crown race — outran Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a match race at Pimlico in 1938 and became a symbol of hope and determination.

“I do believe he’s that, like Seabiscuit,” Coburn said. “He became the people’s horse in the Depression because he was the little guy kicking the big guy. We’re doing that in the same kind of way. No one ever gave it any credence, and we shouldn’t be where we are now.”

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