Twenty-seven opponents at Churchill Downs and Pimlico couldn't stop California Chrome, and neither could a cough caused by a tickle in his throat. A potential obstacle appeared Sunday about whether he would be allowed to wear a nasal strip June 7 in the Belmont Stakes.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is 6-for-6 for trainer Art Sherman since being equipped Dec. 22 with a Flair nasal strip, which helps horses breathe more easily. He was 2-for-6 before that. Sherman said the colt doesn't wear it while training, and that it was co-owner Perry Martin's idea to use it. Sherman said Martin might scratch California Chrome from a Triple Crown bid if he's not allowed to wear the strip, which is legal in virtually all of this country's racing jurisdictions.
"That's going to be interesting. Perry is funny about things like that," Sherman said. "It might be an issue. I'm not saying it will be. I'll let the owners make the decision.
"They allow it [in New York] in harness racing but not for thoroughbreds. That's bogus."
The Daily Racing Form reported that Martin Panza, the New York Racing Association's senior vice president of racing operations, said Sherman made a formal request to Belmont Park's stewards Sunday afternoon to allow California Chrome to wear the nasal strip, and that the decision was expected within 24 to 48 hours.
The New York State Racing Commission's thoroughbred rule 4033.8 states: "Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race."
"I don't know why they'd keep you from wearing it," said Sherman, who was surprised when informed of the rule Sunday morning. "But we'll cross that bridge when we get there."
Even if the strip were not allowed, it would be mind-boggling if a horse were scratched one win away from joining racing's most elite fraternity. Sherman joked he could run his star instead in the July 5 Los Alamitos Derby, saying, "Orange County would be pretty overcrowded that day."
Two years ago, the stewards were not going to let Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another wear a nasal strip in the Belmont. In late May, his controversial trainer, Doug O'Neill, had been suspended because of a third performance-enhancing violation, and it was highly unlikely that any racing officials were going to do O'Neill any favors. It all became moot when a career-ending tendon injury forced O'Neill to scratch I'll Have Another the day before the Belmont.
California Chrome, blissfully ignorant of the controversy, chomped on hay in his stall inside Pimlico's stakes barn as co-owner Steve Coburn showed him off to a woman and her two young daughters. A NYRA statement said the colt is expected to arrive Tuesday morning at Belmont. Assistant trainer Alan Sherman will accompany him to Long Island while his father returns to Southern California to supervise his stable at Los Alamitos.
Triple Crown contenders are 0-for-11 in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont since Affirmed's 1978 sweep. NYRA named Commanding Curve, Danza, Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin, Social Inclusion, Tonalist, Commissioner, Samraat and Intense Holiday as possible challengers to California Chrome.
"I don't care how many fresh shooters they've got there," Art Sherman said. "He's the real McCoy. I'm really confident. I have a good feeling going into this race."