All for Want of a Nasal Strip: California Chrome Brings Rule Change to New York Racing

Triple Crown Hopes Amost Dashed by Nose News in Preakness Aftermath

Credit: Kit Houghton photo via FEI

Sam Griffiths won the Misubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in England last weekend. His horse, Paulank Brockagh , wore a nasal strip during the cross-country phase. The same strip would not be allowed on a racehorse in England. Likewise, equipment in the US is regulated by individual racing jurisdictions. New York has not allowed the patches in the past.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the battle was lost;
For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost
All for the want of a horse-shoe nail.


Can you make that, “All for want of a nasal strip, the Triple Crown was (almost) lost”?

You know it’s a slow news day when a racehorse story is broadcast twice every half hour on CNN, especially when the race is all over.

California Chrome’s needy nostrils are the biggest horse health story since Barbaro. And it’s a sticky situation. We barely had time to celebrate the chestnut’s spectacular win in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes when the prospect of a Triple Crown winner was snatched away by the rumor that he might be a non-starter in the Belmont Stakes.

Would New York racing stewards allow the colt to run with his precious Flair nasal strip stuck on the end of his nose? We held our breath.


Equine exercise physiologist David Marlin, PhD, explains the use of nasal strips in this video, which was sponsored by Flair, makers of the nasal patches used extensively in the United States.

Late this morning, a press release went out informing the world that the three racing stewards at New York’s Belmont Park had unanimously agreed to allow the use of equine nasal strips for all horses running at racetracks of The New York Racing Association, Inc (NYRA), effective immediately.

That ruling clears the way for California Chrome to hop on a van tomorrow and head up I-95 from Baltimore’s Pimlico track, site of the Preakness. His crew will set up a three-week metro-camp at Belmont in preparation for third and final leg of the Triple Crown, the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes on June 7th.

I’ll Have Another brought his nasal strips with him when he came east in 2012 to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. New York did not allow the strips at the time, but the issue never came to a head because the horse was scratched two days before the race.

New York sounds delighted at the prospect of the colt livening up the sports scene. But it was touch-and-go, for a while.

At the center of today’s news story is a sticky little patch that fits on a horse’s nose. Known as a “Flair strip”, this patch is commonly seen on event horses, barrel racers, and in other horse sports where a burst of energy places a high demand on the respiratory system.

New York State Gaming Commission Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, VMD, wrote in today’s statement of advice to the stewards:

“I recommend that the stewards at State-based Thoroughbred racetracks discontinue their ban on equine nasal strips. Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated.

“While there is research to indicate that equine nasal strips decrease airway resistance in horses and may decrease the amount of bleeding associated with EIPH to some degree, I am unfamiliar with any research indicating that equine nasal strips enable a horse to run faster with nasal strips than without them.

“In other words, there is no evidence they have a performance enhancing effect. Equine nasal strips do not pose a welfare or safety risk to the horse. They are applied to the top of the nose and anyone can see their use prior to a race. If improperly applied, equine nasal strips cannot interfere withperformance.

“In my opinion equine nasal strips fall into the same category as tongue-ties.”

Sam Griffiths won the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in England last weekend on Paulank Brockagh. The Irish-bred mare wore a nasal strip during the cross-country phase of the event. American rider Buck Davidson’s horse Ballynoe Castle is often seen wearing the patch.


In India, a centuries-old tradition calls for the nostrils of horses and donkeys to be slit with a knife to enlarge them and make breathing easier. The Brooke Hospital for Animals is campaigning to end this practice. This video is from the archives, but the practice does still go on.

While nasal patches are allowed in many racing jurisdictions, their use is a matter oflocal ruling. In New York’s case, the ruling was left up to the stewards. The use of a nasal strip was an issue two years ago when another California horse, I’ll Have Another, was poised to win the Triple Crown. His nasal strip issue never came to a head because the horse was scratched two days before the race because of an injury.

Nasal strips are not allowed on racehorses in Great Britain. Their use in Australia is governed on a state-by-state basis.

Racehorse breathing has always fascintated horsemen, but has slipped from consciousness in recent years. The size and shape of nostrils was once carefully considered for any horse that needed to race or work at a prolonged pace. Perhaps California Chrome’s publicity for equine nostril function will stimulate new interest in nostril size and shape and position on the muzzle and perhaps get people to at least notice the very small nostrils on some horses that are expected to do big jobs.

The Arabian horse is particularly valued for its expressive and extravagant dilation and relaxation of its nostrils. Youatt (1831) compared the noses of “blood horses” and “cart horses”, noting that a racer or hunting horse should have thin skin connecting large nostrils, so they can easily dilate, while a cart horse that rarely, if ever, works at speed, can have small nostrils and a thick-skinned muzzle.

Youatt noted that nostril slitting to improve airflow was widely practiced in Iceland, as well as in Asia.

Similar patches to California Chrome’s are worn by human athletes at the Olympics or on the football field. They have another therapeutic use in humans: an economical and early-line method to try to curb snoring or to aid in breathing problems during sleep.

California Chrome will need a lot more than a nasal strip to win the long Belmont Stakes, but he’s never lost a race since he’s been wearing the patches. Will the other starters show up wearing them, too?




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