Who would have guessed a little nasal strip could ease the respiration of so many? California Chrome, it was announced Monday, can wear his ersatz Breathe Right in the Belmont Stakes. Now the only thing that stands between the horse and history is the task that hasn't been accomplished since 1978: winning the Triple Crown.
The attempt creates great anticipation for the Belmont on June 7. No event shows off Long Island to a bigger audience, and that attention is only magnified when a horse that's won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness comes to town. Assuming the weather is anything approaching acceptable, more than 100,000 people figure to flood Belmont for the day, enjoying an old-style track that is too often too empty.
The nasal strip California Chrome wears is legal almost everywhere in the nation and was already approved in New York for harness racers. Yesterday, the New York State Gaming Commission's equine medical director recommended that stewards discontinue their ban on the adhesive patch. The stewards agreed unanimously. The patch contains no drugs, but simply lets the horse get a little more oxygen under heavy exertion. There's no reason it should be banned for any horse.
California Chrome is the most recent 3-year-old to become everyone's darling after adding a Preakness win to a Kentucky Derby victory. His charms are enhanced by his story. He was bred for a $2,000 stud fee and is owned by two middle-class couples. He is trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, who never before had a horse from his stable entered in the Derby, but was the stable lad for 1955 Derby champion Swaps, sleeping by the horse's side at Churchill Downs.
Racing is full of such fantastic personalities and stories, tales that dominated New York City culture in another era. The sport likely will never regain its historic heights, but it's still a thrilling spectacle. Events like a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown contender remind us of that.