Do Nasal Strips Help Horses Run Faster?

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NFL players wear them to help them breathe, and so will racehorse California Chrome on June 7, when he attempts to win the Triple Crown.

But there was some doubt as to whether the horse would be allowed to wear a nasal strip at the Belmont Stakes, where a first-place finish would make him the 12th horse in history to win the Triple Crown.

Could a breathing strip on a horse really help it win? California Chrome’s supporters seem to say both yes and no.

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Just as humans wear them to help them breathe during sports or at night, the adhesive strips are designed to improve air flow into a horse’s nostrils — giving horses a boost, said Art Sherman, the horse’s trainer. Sherman suggested the horse might not run without it.

“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. “Any time you can have a good air passage, that means a lot for these thoroughbreds.”

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Yet the New York Racing Association stewards voted today to let the horse wear it on the basis that it would not be an aid:

“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,” New York State Gaming Commission equine medical director Scott Palmer wrote. “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 [exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage] 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.”

California Chrome has worn a nasal strip for each of his last six races, and has won every time. Past Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners have also worn them. Horse-racing rules vary by state, and although Belmont Park officials had said in the past that nasal strips would not be allowed, its rulebook doesn’t specifically mention them, according to ESPN.

Photo: Victor Espinoza rides atop California Chrome after winning the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17, 2014 in Baltimore. Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images