Final leg in chase for Triple Crown figures to stir a debate

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BALTIMORE -- When they asked California Chrome trainer Art Sherman and co-owner Steve Coburn what they thought while watching their colt's victory in the 139th Preakness Stakes, both men said the same thing.

"There were so many cameras in my face," Coburn said. "I couldn't see anything."

And that was only the beginning. The spotlight will get even hotter as California Chrome bids to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

But first, he will have to become the first to run in all three races since Big Brown in 2008, and some question was thrown into the proceedings Sunday morning when Sherman learned from Daily Racing Form writer David Grening that New York has been denying requests for horses to use adhesive nasal strips for several years. Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another was denied permission to use a strip in the Belmont in 2012, and scratched the day before the race with an injury. A new chief steward has taken over in New York since then.

California Chrome is 6 for 6 since adding the adhesive strip. Sherman said the nasal strip was first suggested by co-owner Perry Martin, who attended the Kentucky Derby but didn't travel to the Preakness. New York state racing regulations don't forbid use of the strips, which are similar to those worn sometimes by humans, but state racing stewards have denied their use over the past several years.

"Now that's going to be interesting," Sherman said at his barn Sunday morning, in comments provided by the track. "This guy, Perry Martin, he might not run if they say you can't run with a nasal strip. He's very funny about things like that. The horse has been on a six-race winning streak with nasal strips. I don't know why they would ban you from wearing one, but we'll have to cross that bridge when we get there, I guess."

They will get there soon. Sherman said California Chrome will ship to Belmont at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Sherman said he expects Coburn and Martin to request permission to use the strip. New York's chief racing steward, Stephen Lewandowski, will be under immense pressure to approve its use. On Sunday, New York State Gaming Commission racing officials released a statement:

"Neither the New York State Gaming Commission nor the Stewards at the New York Racing Association have received a request to use nasal strips in the June 7 Belmont Stakes," the statement said. "If a request to use nasal strips is made, the decision on whether to permit them or not will be fully evaluated and determined by the Stewards. This is in accordance with the Commission's Thoroughbred Rule 4033.8, which states: 'Only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.' "

If permission is denied, Stewart said there's a chance the colt's owners could walk away from the Triple Crown chase. But otherwise, all of the colt's connections seem ready for the challenge, and Sherman said his colt looked alert and healthy one day after winning the Preakness.

"I'm thinking what the journey is, one more shot," Sherman said. "I'm going to have a lot of fresh shooters waiting for me in New York. He's done everything we've asked of him. He really doesn't have a lot to prove. He's been a super horse for us. He's one of those horses that you're going to have to outrun to beat him. Maybe they won't be able to beat him. I'm looking forward to that race."

Sherman knows it will be a different type of race. He said he's confident that California Chrome can handle the Belmont distance of 11/2 miles, but said it will be a challenge for jockey Victor Espinoza to make the right decisions in the race. Espinoza gambled in asking California Chrome to move just before turning for home in the Preakness. Espinoza has been in this spot before. He came in with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with War Emblem in 2002, only to come up short in the Belmont.

"To last that long you're going to have to take a hold of your horse the first part of it," Sherman said. "... I don't think he needs to carry his race with him. Whatever the pace is, perfect, he can ride him that way."

The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, and television station WDRB in Louisville, Ky. Eric Crawford writes for WDRB.

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