Belmont Park's three stewards ruled unanimously Monday morning to allow horses at all three New York Racing Association tracks to race while equipped with nasal strips, effective immediately. The decision will allow California Chrome to wear his customary Flair Equine Nasal Strip on June 7 when he goes for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
The ruling came as no surprise and kept the racing world from getting its nose out of joint. Particularly relieved were Perry Martin, co-owner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and his 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman.
A NYRA release said Sherman contacted Belmont's stewards Sunday and requested permission to run his colt with the white nasal strip he's worn in six consecutive races. The stewards consulted New York State Gaming Commission medical director Scott Palmer, who determined there was no reason to prohibit the equipment, which helps horses breathe more easily in competition.
"Equine nasal strips do not enhance performance or pose a risk to the health and safety of the horse, and therefore do not need to be regulated," Dr. Palmer wrote.
The state gaming commission also said the equipment will be permitted at Finger Lakes.
California Chrome is 6-for-6, all in stakes, by an average margin of more than four lengths, with the nasal strip after starting his career 2-for-6. Sherman said the colt doesn't wear it while he's training, and that it was Martin's idea to use it. Sherman said Sunday that Martin might not run California Chrome in the Belmont without the strip, which is legal in virtually all of this country's racing jurisdictions.
Yet even in the very unlikely case that the nasal strip had not been allowed, it would have been mind-boggling if he had been scratched one win away from joining racing's most elite fraternity.
A NYRA spokeswoman said California Chrome would leave Pimlico at 6 a.m. Tuesday on a van bound for Belmont Park, where he'll be housed in Barn 26. Assistant trainer Alan Sherman will accompany him to Long Island, as will Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin. Art Sherman returned to Southern California on Monday to supervise his stable at Los Alamitos for the next two weeks.
Triple Crown contenders are 0-for-11 in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont since Affirmed's 1978 sweep. A NYRA release named Commanding Curve, Danza, Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin, Social Inclusion, Tonalist, Commissioner, Samraat and Intense Holiday as possible challengers.
California Chrome walked around Pimlico's stakes barn Monday morning with groom Raul Rodriguez and then with Alan Sherman. "He came out of the race great," Alan Sherman said. "He's usually tired for a few days but he was feeling really good.
"I'm starting to realize the significance of it all. It has been a great ride this horse has put us on, and I never fathomed we would be a race away from winning the Triple Crown."