Mike Check: Nasal strips won't derail California Chrome's Triple Crown bid

California Chrome with jockey Victor Espinoza and the suddenly-controversial nasal strips.

Credit: Associated Press

Credit: Associated Press

California Chrome with jockey Victor Espinoza and the suddenly-controversial nasal strips.

California Chrome won the Preakness Stakes on Saturday after capturing the Kentucky Derby two weeks prior and now has the chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and just the 12th overall.

But then there was a chance California Chrome might not get his shot because . . . wait for it . . . he wears nasal strips.

The New York Racing Association has a rule against horses using the strips, and Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, said the colt may not run in the Belmont Stakes if the rule isn’t changed.

California Chrome doesn’t have a problem with snoring (as far as I know). Rather, the nasal strips help the horse with his breathing during races. Or at least that’s what Chrome’s co-owner, Perry Martin, believes.

Well, horse racing fans and California Chrome can all breathe easier. (Sorry.) Word just came down that the NYRA will, in fact, allow the use of nasal strips in the Belmont.

If you thought this decision was a no-brainer because a) the strips aren’t cheating and b) horse racing needs the boost in popularity provided by a Triple Crown winner, then you don’t know horse racing. I do, by way of my roots in Louisville, Ky. (Derby City represent!). And I can tell you the sport is legendary for its ability to make myopic, insular decisions without regard to how the general public (or even the betting public) will receive them.

There was a nasal strip precedent here. After I'll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness in 2012 while wearing the strips, the NYRA told the horse’s connections he couldn’t wear them in the Belmont. The issue became moot when I’ll Have Another was scratched with a leg injury prior to the Belmont.

You could make the argument that the NYRA should have stood on principle and stuck with the rule against nasal strips. But then you’d have to explain why the NYRA does allow standardbred (trotting) horses to race with the strips.

The NYRA also is the same racing commission that allowed trainer Rick Dutrow (winner of the Derby and Preakness with Big Brown in 2008) to skirt the rules on doping for years before finally moving to revoke his license in 2011. Remember what I said about horse racing's disregard for public perception?

You could also make the argument that the nasal strips provide California Chrome an unfair advantage. There are two reasons why that dog don’t, um, race. (Sorry.)

First, all the other horses were free to wear the strips in the first two Triple Crown races because Kentucky and Maryland (and apparently every other state) allow them. Second, it’s not as if the nasal strips are a performance-enhancing substance: They are no different than horseshoes, blinkers or other non-medical equipment used to improve the performance of horses.

No word on whether the NYRA realized the preposterousness of the rule or, as ESPN reports, it just wanted the controversy to go away. Either way it did not cut off its nose strips to spite the race.