A self-adhesive strip almost derailed California Chrome’s pursuit of the Triple Crown . . . because the Nasal Flair Strips worn by the colt are banned in the state of New York for thoroughbred racing (not, funnily enough, for standardbreds). This was almost an issue in 2012 — Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another also raced with Flair Nasal Strips. New York stewards ruled that he would not be able to wear one for the Belmont and the colt’s trainers had agreed to have him run without it. Whether it would have made a difference remains unknown as the colt was scratched due to a leg injury.
This year, California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman raised the possibility that the colt would not run without the strips. And the stewards made a wise decision and lifted the ban.
Why are Flair Nasal Strips Used?
Unlike humans (NFL football players often wear nasal strips — also called Breathe Right strips) horses can breathe only through their noses, so reducing airway resistance during exercise is a big deal — even if there is no data available that shows it can help horses run faster, they do help improve oxygen intake. Many horses across multiple disciplines wear the nasal strips, although there is no hard data that proves the strips improve performance, although they do seem to reduce bleeding.
According to the manufacturer:
FLAIR Strips support nasal passages to reduce collapse. By reducing nasal passage collapse, your horse expends less energy to get the oxygen he needs.
During exercise when horses begin to breathe hard the soft tissues overlying the nasal passages are sucked in, reducing the airway diameter. This reduction in diameter causes greater resistance to airflow into the lungs.
Do they make a difference?
In a sport where drugs like Lasix (which prevents horses from bleeding during a race) are used without a second thought, it seems crazy that officials would ban a mechanical solution to the problem.
According to recent research, Nasal strips do not affect pulmonary gas exchange, anaerobic metabolism, or EIPH in exercising Thoroughbreds.
But the jury is still out. Another study, Effect of an external nasal dilator strip on cytologic characterists of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in Thoroughbred racehorses, suggests that use of an external nasal dilator strip in Thoroughbred racehorses may decrease pulmonary bleeding, particularly in horses with severe exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
Perhaps more important is that racing is a sport rife with superstition. If your race horse had won his last six races using a Nasal Strip, why would you risk the most important race of his life without one?
Someone on a bulletin board commented that the owners were wearing the same clothes for the Preakness as for the Derby, adding: “I would bet the house they are all wearing the same underwear! 50/50 chance they washed it.”
Who can blame them?