Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alas, Common Sense Prevails in L’Affaire Strip

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 19, 2014—When it comes to nasal strips, New York State’s Thoroughbred Rule 4033.8, stating “only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race” no more longer applies.

Finally, a victory of sensible thinking over politically autocratic overkill.

In a way it’s a little too bad that officials caved in so quickly on the will-he-or-won’t-he-run controversy. Had officials waited another day or two, it might have gotten people outside the game who watch three races a year fired up, providing enhanced interest in the proceedings.

It actually might have created some new racing fans, those that have fallen in love with a charismatic, handsome Thoroughbred with the cool name of California Chrome. Let’s face it; how many other concerted efforts by the industry to grow the base succeeded?

On the flip side, the New York Gaming Commission should be their props for stepping up so quickly and not pass the buck on to the stewards, who would have been under unreasonably inordinate pressure to do something they refused to do two years ago.

Ultimately, the stewards are racing’s final arbiters. Just ask the bettor who lost over a million bucks when his horse was disqualified in the final race of the day this winter at Gulfstream Park.

Like it or not, decisions such as these are the rightful purview of racing’s trained officials--with transparency and accountability, of course.

The use of nasal strips, permitted in harness racing but heretofore banned in New York’s Thoroughbred game, was no big deal and way overblown in the first place.

Ultimately, the stewards acted on the sane rationale of the New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Medical Director Scott Palmer, DVM, who explained what everyone had surmised; that the use of nasal strips was not performance enhancing.

A nasal strip simply helps a horse breathe a little easier, and improper application of it does not impede its performance.

Additionally, nasal strips may decrease the amount of bleeding associated with exercised induced pulmonary edema without need of a syringe, unlike Lasix which proponents say is needed to control EIPH but is more commonly used as a performance enhancer and potential masking agent.

It is said that raceday Lasix levels an uneven playing field which, in and of itself, is a veiled admission that those who do not administer it somehow are at a competitive disadvantage. So, which one is it?

Clearly, yesterday’s decision by the New York stewards this was more policy change than simple, pragmatic decision making. Now, according to Palmer, equine nasal strips can be classified in the same category as tongue-ties.

Had common sense not prevailed, the precedent cited would have been the I’ll Have Another case of 2012. That dual classics winner was scratched on the eve of the Belmont due to injury but had been denied permission to use a nasal strip.

While the current Triple Crown connections arrive on Long Island all squeaky clean, I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, brought some unwelcome baggage into Belmont Park.

It may be that the nasal strip denial had as much do with O’Neill’s admission that he used Shockwave Therapy on I’ll Have Another to treat the colt’s aching back.

But the use of Shockwave Therapy in horses is highly controversial and rightly so. An overzealous horseman could use it to promote faster healing of soft tissue injuries, which more correctly responds to R & R than anything else.

Further, the back issue didn’t ring true with several experts at that time. In addition, there is not universal agreement on the lead time needed between treatment and a return to racing or serious training.

History notwithstanding, it is good that pragmatism prevailed here. If not, strict rules constructionists might have been uncomfortable rolling the dice with people who during the Triple Crown season have shown themselves to act in a principled manner.

If a partial-sale meant that Art Sherman no longer would be the colt’s trainer; it was no sale. If Churchill Downs wasn’t accommodating enough to Perry Martin and his family, there was no reason to move on to Pimlico, however misguided that decision might have been.

It is not inconceivable, then, that Team California Chrome might have elected to stay home. The Belmont will be, after all, his fourth race in nine weeks. And, of course, it’s a mile and a half long.

To ask the colt to perform in any manner that might diminish the capacity to be at his best could have been enough reason to pull the plug on history.

Indeed, a Triple Crown victory conservatively could double his value, guesstimated by some to currently stand in the $15 million range given his recent invincibility. A loss could have a negative impact on his value in the future.

California Chrome is handsome and he’s fast. He’s already a rock star that would have any major track in America stumbling over itself to attract the dual classics winner to its venue.

Strange, too, if you consider this: Ask the ordinary sports fan or casual racing fan to name all 11 Triple Crown winners and they would be very hard pressed to do so.

But ask them five years from now to name the horse that had a chance to win the Triple Crown and stayed home on a matter of principle, they’d blurt out his name in 22-and-44.

Would that decision be unfair to the horse? Undoubtedly, yes. But while California Chrome may be handsome and fast, I’m not sure his feelings wouldn’t be hurt as long as part owner Steve Coburn keeps feeding him those cookies.

Written by John Pricci

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