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Commentary: Nasal strip controversy at Belmont was foolish

SEATTLE — We start with the reason I’m wearing a nasal strip tonight: It’s in support of California Chrome’s attempt to win the first Triple Crown since 1978…. Which is now in jeopardy because he wears a nasal strip when he races.

It’s a nasal strip that’s been allowed at every other venue he’s raced – but apparently not Belmont Park in New York.

According to the New York State Gaming Commission’s rules governing Belmont Park, it states “Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.” It will ultimately be a decision by the stewards whether California Chrome will be allowed to wear the nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.

This has to be the most ridiculous hurdle I’ve ever heard of in a horse’s attempt to win a Triple Crown – and one that might cause California Chrome’s owner to pull him from the race.

This is a story that belongs on the “C’mon Man!” segment before Monday Night Football.

Over the past 36 years, we’ve watched 12 horses win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to fall short without a win at Belmont Park – for a plethora of reasons: A late scratch. An injury. A bad run. Or simply the fact that the horse ran out of gas on the longest of the Triple Crown races at a mile and a half. But a nasal strip? One that’s allowed in California and Louisville and Maryland –but not in New  York? Give me a break.

In California Chrome, we have the ultimate underdog horse, bred for just $10,000 – compared to Seabiscuit – a West Coast invader trying to make history in the capital of East Coast biases… and his bid for immortality is being challenged by one of these (point to nasal strip)! A strip that has been allowed for ANY horse to wear in all six races he’s run.

The funny part is – the same thing happened with “I’ll Have Another” two years ago – and the horse was preparing to race without the nasal strip, until a leg injury kept him out of the race. The “nasal strip” headlines there were overshadowed by allegations of illegal training methods by the horse’s trainer, Doug O’Neill. Not this time, where Chrome’s trainer is not under the dark cloud of suspicious training practices.

Plus – with all the other distractions and pressure California Chrome faces – not to mention his trainer, owners and jockey – over the next three weeks, a nasal strip should be the least of their concerns.

We all want to see “California Chrome” win it all – and the Belmont Stakes already presentS enough challenges.

To the stewards at Belmont Park: Let him wear the strip.

We can all breathe more easily that way.

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