In a sport in which races are often won by the length of a nose, anything touting the slightest performance edge will get a lot of hype.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup marked the debut of the equine nasal strip, billed as the answer to horse racing’s ever-competitive quest for an advantage. The device, known as the Flair strip, looks like a long, narrow Band-Aid and is designed to enhance oxygen intake through the nose.
Thirty-one horses in last year’s Breeders’ Cup races wore the strip, including three of eight winners. The success of horses using the device, which is produced by Minneapolis-based CNS Inc., made the strip increasingly popular in the following months.
But one year later, as horses and trainers descend upon Churchill Downs in Kentucky for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, there is little talk of the once-popular strip. The enthusiasm for the so-called revolutionary device has waned as many now believe the adhesive does nothing to actually enhance performance or help win races.
“People thought it would be a revolutionary thing, but it hasn’t turned out that way,” says Ira Kaplan, senior editor at the Daily Racing Form. He says trainers are mixed about whether they think the strip is effective.
Revolution Did Not Happen
“Everyone is looking for some kind of advantage,” says New York Racing Association veterinarian Dr. Celeste Kunz. “So when the Flair strips first came out everyone was talking about them and wondering about them. Equine associations had conferences and experts came and talked about them.”
Indeed, trainers have been trying to find ways to increase a horse’s oxygen intake for years. In the past, some would place nose rings in each of the horse’s nostrils, then tie the rings down to the harness with a shoelace to hold the nostrils open wide, some veterinarians say.
The $15 Flair strips are a seemingly more comfortable option for horses. Like similar strips worn by athletes in the Olympics, in football games and in some track and field events, the equine strips are placed about an inch and a half above the horse’s nostrils, on a narrow part of the nose. The strip is designed to hold the nasal passages open, allowing maximum air flow, since horses breathe only through their noses and not their mouths.
Some trainers and veterinarians believe bleeding from the lungs is also reduced by using the strip because it is easier for a horse to take in oxygen, Kunz said.
Horses sometimes bleed in their lungs and from their noses due to hard running and, some say, from the diuretic Lasix. Vets often give horses the drug in the belief it will prevent bleeds, but some say it may actually cause them.
More Research Needed
CNS introduced Breathe Right, the original strip for humans, in the early 1990s. Shortly thereafter, CNS Chairman Dan Cohen said he received calls from nearly 100 people in the horse business wondering whether the strips could be adapted for horses.
A couple of years later, a device was developed with the help of veterinarian Ed Blach. Blach noticed a small depression on the narrow part of the horse’s snout where soft tissue could be seen collapsing as the animal struggled for breath. He thought a device similar to the Breathe Right could help keep the horse’s nasal passageway open, and soon the Flair strip was born.
CNS sold approximately 100,000 of the single-use strips for horses this year, says Cohen, who would not comment on whether sales of the Flair had increased or decreased since last year.