BALTIMORE – California Chrome might abandon his Triple Crown bid if New York officials do not allow the colt to wear a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Art Sherman made no threats about the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner passing on a chance to become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, but he suggested it was a possibility.
"I'd have to leave it up to the owners," he said Sunday. "I know they'll be upset."
Neither the New York State Gaming Commission nor the New York Racing Association stewards has received a request to use nasal strips in the Belmont on June 7.
"If a request to use nasal strips is made, the decision on whether to permit them or not will be fully evaluated and determined by the stewards," Gaming Commission spokesman Lee Park said Sunday.
Among the Gaming Commission's rules governing Belmont Park is one that states: Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.
In a post on its Twitter feed, NYRA said: "We operate under the rules set forth by @NYSGamingCommission."
California Chrome has worn a nasal strip during his current six-race winning streak after co-owner Perry Martin wanted to try it. Sherman is based in California and said he wasn't aware that using one in New York might be a problem. He said he would talk to New York racing officials and the horse's owners.
Some horses, like humans, wear nasal strips to assist breathing. The colt wears the strip only during races, not training.
At 1 ½ miles, the Belmont is the longest and most grueling of the three Triple Crown races.
"I think it opens up his air passage and gives him that little extra oomph that he needs, especially going a mile and a half," Sherman said. "Anytime you can have a good air passage, that means a lot for these thoroughbreds."
Sherman said Martin likes to try different products and the co-owner thought a nasal strip might benefit California Chrome.
"This guy, Perry Martin, he might not run if they say you can't run with a nasal strip. He's very funny about things like that," the trainer said. "I don't know why they would ban you from wearing one. We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there."
Other states allow nasal strips while racing, and even some jockeys wear them.
"It's something nonmedical that can be beneficial to a workout or a race," California-based trainer Doug O'Neill said by phone. "If you think your horse could use some help with their nostrils, you do it."
Two years ago, O'Neill trained I'll Have Another to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with the colt wearing a nasal strip. New York officials told O'Neill that his horse couldn't wear one in the Belmont. The issue became moot when I'll Have Another was scratched the day before the race because of a leg injury.
"I can't imagine them being that ignorant that they would do that again," O'Neill said. "New York has gotten a lot better with common sense. It seems like a more rational place now."
NYRA has several new officials since 2012, including Martin Panza, the former racing secretary at now-closed Betfair Hollywood Park in California who now oversees racing operations at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.
Sherman said California Chrome came out of Saturday's Preakness in good shape, emptying his feed tub after the race.
The colt playfully nibbled on his leather shank outside the barn as his two front legs were washed off Sunday. A worker removed a poultice from each lower front leg, which had been applied under bandages as a precaution to protect the colt's tendons.
The nasal strip could prove insignificant, as did California Chrome's cough that had no impact on his Preakness run. The colt has a small blister in his throat that caused him to cough last week, triggering rumors that he wouldn't run at Pimlico.
Sherman thinks California Chrome will win the Triple Crown, something no horse has done since Affirmed in 1978.
"I have a good feeling about it. I'm really confident," he said. "They better have their running shoes on. I don't care how many fresh shooters they have. He's the real McCoy."
If California Chrome competes, the Belmont Stakes is shaping up as a possible 11-horse race, including two newcomers to the Triple Crown trail: Commissioner, sixth in the Arkansas Derby; and Tonalist, the Peter Pan Stakes winner.
Other probables include the second- through fifth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby: Commanding Curve, Danza, Wicked Strong and Samraat. Intense Holiday, 12th in the Derby, is on the list.
Three Preakness runners could return: Ride On Curlin (second), Social Inclusion (third) and Kid Cruz (eighth).