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California Chrome can use nasal strip in Belmont Stakes, race officials say

By Michael Pearson, Steve Almasy and Ray Sanchez, CNN
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nasal strip ban lifted after official determined they don't affect races, groups say
  • California Chrome's owners weren't sure if the horse would compete in the Belmont Stakes
  • The decision means the 3-year-old still has a shot at the Triple Crown
  • The horse has worn the strips in six straight victories, owners say

(CNN) -- California Chrome by a nose strip?

Could be, now that New York racing officials have decided to allow the 3-year-old to wear a breathing strip during the June 7 Belmont Stakes, where he will run for one of the rarest achievements in big-money sports -- the Triple Crown.

Racetrack stewards representing the New York State Gaming Commission, the New York Racing Association and the Jockeys Club agreed Monday to end a Belmont policy prohibiting use of the strips.

The colt's trainer had said his owners might not allow him to race without a strip, which the manufacturer says allows horses to breathe more freely and reduces the risk of bleeding in the lungs during heavy exertion.

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California Chrome can use a nasal strip

California Chrome has worn the strips during his last six wins, including first-place finishes at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the other two legs of the Triple Crown.

While the manufacturer, Flair, says horses who wear the strips "use five to eight percent less energy at high speed and during recovery," New York State Gaming Commission Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer told the racetrack stewards that there's no evidence they confer a competitive advantage.

"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 organizations quoted Palmer as saying in the letter.

Hours earlier, the horse's co-owner told CNN's "New Day" that he had expected it to take another day or two for the issue to be resolved.

"We want to run; we really do," Steve Coburn said. "I think the people of New York want us to bring this horse here. They want to see him run."

California Chrome will travel from Baltimore, Maryland, to Elmont, New York, on Tuesday.

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Horses breathe differently

The strips in question are similar to ones sometimes worn by people with nasal congestion or breathing problems. They sell for about $10 a piece from online retailers.

According to the manufacturer, the strips keep a horse's airway from becoming smaller during strenuous activity. That helps provide more air to the lungs and reduce the chance of bleeding, which Flair said is common in hard-working horses.

In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for Flair wrote: "The strips are based on the same principles as the human Breathe Right strip. However, horses only breathe through their noses, making it even more important to support the tissue that collapses inward during deep breathing. By supporting the integrity of the nasal passages, horses breathe easier."

Nan Rawlins said that a survey of the top 55 trainers by the company found that its strips were worn in nearly 10,000 races in 2013, but a precise number worn in all races was not available.

The strips, introduced in 1999, are popular in other types of events like barrel racing, eventing and quarter horses, Rawlins wrote.

Here's a look back at the 11 horses who've managed the feat. Sir Barton was the first horse to earn the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, as it would come to be known, by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1919. Here's a look back at the 11 horses who've managed the feat. Sir Barton was the first horse to earn the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, as it would come to be known, by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1919.
Triple Crown winners
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Triple Crown winners Triple Crown winners

In 2012, I'll Have Another faced a similar dilemma after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but the issue was never resolved after the horse suffered a career-ending leg injury and was unable to run the race.

Saturday's big win

If California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes, he would be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to achieve the ultimate feat in thoroughbred racing.

Of the 38 horses who have won the Derby and Preakness, only 11 have gone on to victory in the Belmont Stakes, the longest of the Triple Crown races.

The colt won the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on Saturday with a burst at the homestretch.

"It is an awesome feeling to be able to have a horse like California Chrome," jockey Victor Espinoza told NBC Sports after the race. "It was just a crazy race. ... I got more tired mentally than physically riding him. But it worked out well, and he's just an amazing horse."

Sherman described California Chrome in no uncertain terms: "Pure and simple, he's a rock star."

Mare bought for $8,000

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California Chrome was born to a mare named Love the Chase, purchased by Coburn and Martin for $8,000 with a view to breeding.

She was bred to the stallion Lucky Pulpit for a reduced fee of $2,000, the first breeding the novice pair had ever undertaken.

Their offspring had earned Coburn and Perry more than $2.3 million in prize money before the Preakness, also chalking up wins at the Santa Anita Derby, San Felipe Stakes and California Cup Derby.

Coburn told CNN's Chris Cuomo that he saw the horse in a dream three weeks before he was born and knew he would do big things.

"He's proven us right so far," Coburn said Monday.

In an earlier interview, he even said it's not a stretch to compare his horse to Seabiscuit, the undersized horse who never competed in a Triple Crown race but still outran Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a 1938 showdown, becoming a Depression-era symbol of hope and determination in the process.

"He became the people's horse in the Depression because he was the little guy kicking the big guy," Coburn said. "We're doing that in the same kind of way. No one ever gave it any credence, and we shouldn't be where we are now."

CNN's Jill Martin contributed to this report.

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