BOZICH | Chrome's story made nasal strip ban easier for NYRA to - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Chrome's story made nasal strip ban easier for NYRA to lift

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California Chrome will try to win the Triple Crown at the Belmont June 7. California Chrome will try to win the Triple Crown at the Belmont June 7.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Sometimes nice guys finish first. Your coach or boss might not want to hear that, but that’s the lesson I’m taking from the decision by the New York Racing Association to allow California Chrome to race wearing a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes.

California Chrome is trained by Art Sherman. He’s the kind of old school horseman who acts as if he just walked out of a Red Smith column. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in his first crack -- at age 77. 

Sherman has the personality of racing’s best friend, a guy who’s always ready to let visitors see the fantastic pony in his barn. He’s been Mr. Positive and Mr. Available. He carries himself as if this pursuit of the Triple Crown has been the greatest three weeks of his life.

And his race track record is clean.

You won’t find stories about milk shakes or buzzers or other backstretch nonsense.

That not only made it easy for the New York Racing Association to eliminate its ban on nasal strips, it made it mandatory.

How could NYRA deny the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner his chance to win the Belmont on June 7, especially when one of Chrome’s owners was threatening to skip the race if the colt was denied the nasal strips?

How could NYRA risk doubling Belmont attendance and juicing NBC’s television audience?

It was the wise call – and it was the proper call. Let there be no mistake about that. Nasal strips are about as performance enhancing as a lucky penny.

But let there also be no mistake about this: It was a much easier call, considering Art Sherman is training this Triple Crown wannabe.

I doubt NYRA’s decision would have been as quick or as universally applauded if California Chrome’s trainer were Doug O’Neill, Rick Dutrow or Steve Asmussen – guys who have found their names on the wrong side of the suspension lists.

Two years ago, NYRA refused to let O’Neill’s colt (I’ll Have Another) race with the breathing strips in the Belmont after he won while wearing them in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Did it make a difference?

We’ll never know. I’ll Have Another scratched the day before the Belmont.

But O’Neill didn’t make a fuss about challenging the decision and public sentiment did not align behind him and his colt. Folks were watching every move that O’Neill made.

Are the strips a big deal?

Apparently not. I asked Elliott Walden, a former trainer, and Richard Klein, a local horse owner.

Walden trained Victory Gallop, the colt who denied Real Quiet the 1998 Triple Crown by defeating him in the Belmont. Walden stopped training horses when he became the president/CEO and racing manager of WinStar Farms in Versailles, Ky.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Walden said. “I used them for several years and then stopped. My winning percentage didn’t get any better when I was using them.”

“It’s a non-issue,” Klein said. “They have no significance whatsoever. If New York was going to ban horses from wearing them, they’d need to stop jockeys from wearing them, too.”

I agree. The strips are comparable to Breathe Right strips worn by athletes and people with snoring issues. I tried them. They were not performance enhancing, but they were wallet emptying. Then I decided to stop wasting my money.

Walden said the real issue is one that percolates in racing every day – the absence of universal rules for items like nasal strips.

In Kentucky, they’re fine. Ditto for Maryland.

New York, New York? You needed approval. Some received the approval. Some did not.

“Do they give a horse an advantage and make them run faster?” Walden asked. “No. Does it help them breathe better? I’m not sure.”

Neither am I. But I am sure that the Feel-Good story surrounding California Chrome made it considerably easier for NYRA officials to green light the nasal strips for Art Sherman than it would have been if another trainer had asked.

Nice guys do finish first sometimes.

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