The use of nasal strips for Thoroughbreds in New York State is a controversy that seems a distant memory as California Chrome prepares to chase immortality on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Thing is that the strip flap should have been settled in 1999. Apparently, justice is not the only issue that grinds very slowly.
Prior to reversing his course on nasal strips, Dr. Ted Hill, former New York Racing Association examining veterinarian and now current Jockey Club steward, cited studies showing that equine nasal strips can be performance-enhancing by reducing fatigue and possibly prevent bleeding.
Admittedly, Hill had no plans to become a steward: “It was totally different from my former job,” Hill said in the New York Times three years ago. As a veterinarian you’re familiar with the rules, but your primary responsibility is the welfare and safety of the horses.”
As for the use of nasal strips, former NYRA steward Carmine Donofrio, Hill’s colleague for 14 years, had this take on the subject: “We don’t need ‘em, we have Lasix”.
Philosophically, however, that opinion is at odds with Hill’s thoughts on the diuretic. “Lasix is greatly overused,” said Hill in Bill Heller’s “Run, Baby, Run: What Every Owner, Breeder & Handicapper Should Know About Lasix in Racehorses.”
“The research on Lasix raises more questions than answers,” Hill said, adding later that “Lasix is not totally innocuous even though it’s used in such enormous quantities. Some horses react severely to it.
“Some horses become very quiet, too quiet. Horses can get colic or a spastic gut. It’s not hard for our horses in extensive training and stall environments to get uncomfortable. Some horses run very poorly on Lasix. I’d like to see it not in blanket usage in New York.”
Meanwhile, the nasal strip issue could have been avoided long before California Chrome was a gleam in Lucky Pulpit’s eye. NYRA always classified nasal strips as “equipment,” no different than blinkers, shadow rolls or tongue ties. But those items were allowed long before their “performance enhancing” effects were studied.
A ‘nasal strip’ is a self-adhesive appliance placed over a horse’s nose to stabilize underlying soft tissue. It does not require a diagnosis, prescription, injection, or the services of a veterinarian, yet NYRA invoked a house rule against them even though they were approved by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in 1999, begging the question: Why?
Prior to the controversy, nasal strips were legal for Thoroughbreds in every racing jurisdiction in the country. Notwithstanding the New York ban, trainers could ask for permission but solely at the discretion of NYRA’s stewards under a state regulation that ”only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.”
The most celebrated case was in 2012 when trainer Doug O’Neill requested permission to use the strips on his Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another. He was denied permission by stewards Hill, Donofrio and Braulio Baeza Jr. I'll Have Another subsequently was declared from the race due to injury.
At that time, Hill told Daily Racing Form that “part of the issue had to do with a nasal strip coming off a horse in the paddock or at the gate, citing the possibility of wet weather… To be fair and consistent, we have to regulate its use… that’s always been the issue.”
As most fans know, nasal strips have been permitted in New York harness racing since 1999, which begs another question: Why didn’t Dr. Hill query his colleagues to learn how harness racing officials and standardbred trainers have successfully regulated the use of nasal strips for the past 15 years?
When California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman indicated that his Derby and Preakness winner might not race in the $1,500,000 Belmont Stakes if the strips were not permitted; an epic media storm arose. During that 72-hour period neither the stewards nor the media put in a call to Dr. James Chiapetta, co-inventor of the Fair Nasal Strips.
“I’ve been dealing with New York since we launched the product in 1999 – I still have the document that says NYSRWB approved nasal strips – that meant thoroughbreds and standardbreds,” he said by phone this week.
Chiapetta called the New York stewards repeatedly over the years but got no response. He received letters from former NYRA President Charlie Hayward promising to look into the matter but nothing happened.
“When the I’ll Have Another issue arose in 2012, we never really got the straight story. I met with [NYSRWB Chairman] John Sabini and with his general counsel and [a second] attorney but they didn’t seem to understand or articulate what the issue was. The matter was referred back to the stewards so we got on the phone with [them].”
Hill told Chiapetta: “I believe in the product, I believe in the data, I don’t see why this should be a problem -- but, given this has gone on for so long we really have to go back to NYRA because they are the ones who implemented the ban.”
In one subsequent conversation, Chiapetta was asked to explain how other jurisdictions regulated nasal strips. “We went through every jurisdiction in America, my people on the ground identified that everybody manages them like a tongue tie.”
Chiapetta was told he needed to leave nasal strips in the paddock “so if a horse comes [in the paddock} without it we could put it on because ‘we can’t scratch horses because fields are too small’.”
Chiapetta sent the Flair nasal strips to Hill but “then the world went silent – we would call, and call, and never heard anything back.”
Chiapetta then reached Donofrio on the phone, “I proposed the opportunity to sit and talk and explain to him the science behind the product. Donofrio said he [didn’t need the science]. [Neither was he interested in its role] in reducing EIPH.”
“Well maybe I’ll talk to you when Lasix is banned,” Chiapetta was told.
In eight peer-reviewed studies nasal strips are scientifically proven to reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging [bleeding] by reducing the collapse of the soft nasal tissue during exercise.
Unlike humans, horses breathe only through their nostrils; all horses have a large area of tissue on their nose that gets sucked in when they’re running hard.
The use of nasal strips can reduce bleeding as much as Lasix by increasing the ease of air intake, in turn reducing the negative pressure in the alveoli which, when less stressed, are less likely to break and cause bleeding. http://www.hrtv.com/videos/dr-jim-chiapetta-on-flair-nasal-strips-/ VIDEO: Benefits of Flair Strips http://www.hrtv.com/videos/benefits-of-flair-nasal-strip/?VideoCategoryId=0
“The strips make no more difference in the outcome of a race than do horseshoes, tongue ties, figure eight bridles, or other equipment horsemen are permitted to use," concluded Chiapetta in a statement.
Despite overwhelming evidence of its debilitating effect on horses, Lasix continues to be the drug of choice for thoroughbred trainers for treating EIPH. “The strips, however, are designed to protect horses’ lungs so they can stay healthier,” added Chiapetta.
So NYRA has had this information for 15 years, yet chose to deny Thoroughbreds at their tracks the benefits of a humane, prophylactic measure that would possibly stop horses from choking on their own blood.
And we believe that this industry can police itself?
Equestrian Susan Kayne is a New York-based owner-breeder and host of the television magazine series "Unbridled"