The horse’s trainer has accepted the state’s sanction, calling it a “zero issue.” But for Jim Chiapetta, it’s the only issue that matters.
Chiapetta is a veterinarian and founder of Flair LLC, which invented and produces the strips. (“Flair Strips: Prevent. Protect. Perform.”) He hoped the Belmont Stakes would be the last leg in the resurgence of the strip’s — and his — fortunes.
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) and the state’s all-powerful racing officials, known as stewards, are unsympathetic. “Nosy NYRA strips ‘Another’ of ‘edge,’ ” read a May 27 New York Post headline, echoing articles in outlets such as Bloodhorse.com. The ban is rooted in New York regulation 4033.8, which allows horses and riders to carry or wear only equipment approved by the stewards.
In a last-ditch effort to reverse the ruling — or perhaps to gain publicity for his business — Chiapetta has hired Robert Zimmerman, a noted Long Island public relations executive and Democratic donor. Chiapetta’s primary talking point: Flair is a more natural alternative to the controversial drug Lasix, which is also used to prevent bleeding in the lungs during extreme exertion. “My Lasix-dependent bleeder wore FLAIR all 30 performances,” reads one Flair Web site testimonial from trick rider Shawn Brackett. “NEVER BLED A SINGLE TIME!”
Chiapetta also wonders why the stewards forbid the strips for thoroughbreds but allow them for standardbred horses (“the ones who pull carts”).
His conversations with racing officials have not gone well. Ted Hill, the Jockey Club steward at Belmont Park, made it clear that in fairness to the betting public there would be no Flair in Belmont. “What if you have a wet, cold, rainy day and the horse is supposed to be using a nasal strip and comes to the paddock and doesn’t have it and you can’t apply one?” Hill said. “Your options are to ignore it, which isn’t very fair to the public, or let the horse run for purse money only or scratch the horse entirely.”
Chiapetta did not fare any better with Carmine Donofrio, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board steward.
“Do you have a minute?” Chiapetta said he asked Donofrio.
“No! What do you want?”
Chiapetta suggested there was a good deal of science recommending the strips.
“I don’t need no science,” Donofrio replied, according to Chiapetta, who said he took notes during the exchange. Donofrio’s office declined to comment on private conversations.