As of 5:53 p.m. EDT on May 18, trainer Art Sherman had put in a formal request with New York regulators and stewards asking for permission to race California Chrome, the winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I), with a nasal strip in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's California Chrome was equipped with a Flair Nasal Strip, which is said to aid a horse's breathing by opening the nasal passages, for his last six races, all victories by a combined 27 1/2-length margin. The Lucky Pulpit colt now has a shot to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
The issue was first raised by Daily Racing Form in light of a similar situation in 2012. New York regulators said I'll Have Another , who also won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, couldn't wear a nasal strip in the Belmont; it became a moot point when the colt was scratched a day before the race.
Whether or not a horse can compete wearing a nasal strip is decided by New York Racing Association stewards.
"To me, I think it helps," Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, said the morning of May 18 at Pimlico Race Course. "(But) it's not going to move him up five or six lengths. It's a breathing thing. He'd probably be OK, but you hate to change things.
"We've used it every time (for races), but we never train him with one in the morning, and even when I breeze him, I never put one on. I don't think it would ever stop him, but people get funny. It's a national thing, Flair Nasal Strips; a lot of people use them, especially in California."
California Chrome's ownership team isn't pleased with the prospect of not being able to race the colt with a nasal strip.
"I'll tell you one thing about these owners: They're funny about stuff like that," Art Sherman said with a laugh. "Perry might say, 'Well, he's done enough, let's go to the Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II on July 5).' I've hardly ever run any horses with a nasal strip except him. We don't want to change it if we don't have to."
Sherman said Martin suggested last year he try a nasal strip on California Chrome.
"I'm very serious about that. Perry Martin might say, 'If I can't put it on the horse, I'm not sending him over there.' I mean, they might be superstitious about it."
The nasal-strip prohibition does not come from the New York State Gaming Commission, whose predecessor, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, approved such use in October 1999. It allows nasal strips to be used in Standardbred racing.
The strips, however, have not been permitted at NYRA tracks at the discretion of stewards under a one-sentence, catch-all equipment state regulation that states: "Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race."
When the NYSRWB approved use of nasal strips in 1999, it was done so with the provision that they would be re-evaluated.
According to a statement issued via the NYSGC's Twitter account, "If (a) request to use nasal strips is made, (a) decision on whether to permit or not will be evaluated and determined by the Stewards. NYSGC TB Rule 4033.8: 'Only equipment specifically approved by stewards shall be worn or carried by jockey or horse in a race.' "
Tom LaMarra contributed to this story.