BALTIMORE (AP) – California Chrome can breathe easy — he may wear a nasal strip when he goes for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
Belmont Park stewards cleared the horse Monday to use the strip he wore while winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
New York tracks have a rule prohibiting any equipment not specifically approved by stewards, and nasal strips were not on the list.
A statement from the New York Racing Association and the state's Gaming Commission says three stewards unanimously gave approval.
The strip worn by California Chrome during his six-race winning streak is thought to improve airflow through his nostrils. That will come in handy during the Belmont's grueling 1½ miles on June 7.
It was a tense day and a half for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor. It wasn't clear if the NYRA would make an exception for the nasal strip or not.
"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.
California Chrome trainer Art Sherman, meanwhile, wasn't making threats about the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victor 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 on Sunday. "I know they'll be upset."
California Chrome co-owner Perry Martin wanted to try the nasal strips and Sherman, who is based in California, wasn't aware that using one in New York might be a problem.
Some horses, like humans, wear nasal strips to assist breathing. The colt wears the strip only during races, not training.
"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 (which finished second), Social Inclusion (third) and Kid Cruz (eighth).