Officials of a Twin Cities company are breathing easier Monday now that racing officials in New York state have cleared California Chrome to wear a stamina-improving nasal strip as the horse pursues racing immortality — the Triple Crown — next month in the grueling Belmont Stakes.
The $10.50 nasal strip worn by California Chrome is made by Flair, a company based in Delano and founded by two equine veterinarians.
Upon the horse’s Preakness victory Saturday in Baltimore and before uncertainty about whether the horse could use the strip at next month’s 1 1/2-mile Belmont was settled Monday, Flair issued a statement saying it would “continue to do everything in our power to work with the New York Racing Association to get the strips approved for New York thoroughbred racing as quickly as possible.”
Ed Blach, an equine veterinarian and co-inventor of the nasal strip, said Monday he found out the good news like millions of others, on ESPN, and added that “we’re really excited and happy that the issue is resolved, and now [California Chrome’s crew] can get focused on the Belmont.”
Flair’s website notes that up until Monday its strips have been approved throughout North America with the exception of thoroughbred racing in New York, where tracks have a rule prohibiting any equipment not specifically approved by stewards. The strip was not on the list.
On Sunday, trainer Art Sherman had raised the possibility his horse wouldn’t run in the Belmont if barred from using the strip. The next day, Belmont Park stewards cleared the horse to use the strip he wore while winning the shorter Kentucky Derby and Preakness races.
Sherman, whose horse is trying to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978, said he believes the strip “opens up his air passage and gives him that little extra oomph that he needs, especially going a mile and a half.”
The strips were invented in the late 1990s by Blach, of Monument, Colo., and fellow equine veterinarian James R. Chiapetta, who lives in Delano and once was a vet at Canterbury Park.
Bach said the intense and short-lived debate over the strip has fueled “a global discussion on all forms of media. … We are grateful for the [financial] benefits of having that conversation” continue about the strip and the company, which he said is growing and making sales around the globe.
Blach said Flair will have several representatives at the Belmont on June 7 to “educate and assist trainers in learning how to use the strip.”
Flair began as part of Bloomington-based CNS Inc., long famous for bringing jockeys and other humans — athletes or not — the Breathe Right nasal strip. Some chronic snorers have also been silenced the strip.
The vets said they came up with the idea after noticing that working horses experienced collapsed nasal passages during exercise. Complicating matters: Unlike humans, horses only breathe through their nostrils.
The strips, which weigh less than an ounce and sit about 1 1/2 inches above the nostrils, first hit the big-time competitive horse world during the 1999 Breeder’s Cup races. Several Kentucky Derby entrants wore them in 2000.
In 2012, I’ll Have Another wore the strip while winning the Derby and Preakness, and his handlers were told he couldn’t wear them in the Belmont. But the horse ended up scratching because of a leg injury.
Along with thoroughbred and harness racing, the strips are also approved by governing bodies for use by horses in polo, equestrian, barrel racing and other types of equine competition.
Staff writer Rachel Blount and the Associated Press contributed to this report.