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NY clears way for California Chrome to race at Belmont

By Joe Drape
New York Times

California Chrome fans can breathe easy: New York regulators will allow Chrome, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, to wear his nasal strip in the 146th Belmont Stakes on June 7, when he will try to become only the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown.

Scott E. Palmer, the equine medical director for the New York State Gaming Commission, instructed state stewards to discontinue their ban on the 4-by-6-inch adhesive patch — similar to the Breathe Right strips worn by N.F.L. players and chronic snorers — which is designed to ease breathing by decreasing upper-airway nasal resistance.

It is legal in most jurisdictions, and California Chrome has been wearing one since Perry Martin, one of his owners, suggested he try one after the colt finished sixth last fall in a stakes race. California Chrome has won six straight races since the white patch went on his white blaze.

The colt’s trainer, Art Sherman, had raised the possibility that California Chrome might not run if he could not wear the nasal strip.

“I recommend that the stewards at state-based thoroughbred racetracks discontinue their ban on equine nasal strips,” Palmer said in a letter sent to racing officials. “Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated.”

The three stewards at Belmont Park on Monday unanimously agreed to allow the use of nasal strips for all horses competing at New York Racing Association racetracks.

The Flair Equine Nasal Strip was designed by two veterinarians, Jim Chiapetta and Ed Blach, and it came to the forefront of the sport at the 1999 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. It was originally tested on seven geldings at Kansas State in a study, conducted by a veterinarian, H. H. Erickson, which found that the strips improved oxygen intake.

Blach, chief operating officer of Flair, said there had been six additional university-level studies that had shown health benefits for horses using the strips.

“Our company, Flair LLC, has always focused on providing a drug-free product that helps horses stay healthy,” Blach said Monday in an email.

In 2012, I’ll Have Another wore the strip in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but New York stewards ruled that the breathing aid would be prohibited for the third leg of the Triple Crown. The colt’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, agreed to abandon it, but it became immaterial when I’ll Have Another was scratched on the eve of the Belmont because of a leg injury.

In his letter, Palmer acknowledged there had been sufficient studies on the nasal strip and that none proved they gave horses a competitive advantage.

“There is no longer sufficient justification to prevent or regulate their use,” he said

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