California Chrome’s run for the Triple Crown puts Delano-invented FLAIR Equestrian Nasal Strips in the spotlight
By Matt Kane
DELANO The dozens of horse ranches that dot the landscape around Delano and the surrounding area serve as a calming therapy while driving along one of the curvy back roads.
South of Delano sits the Chiapetta farm, a tranquil ranch that Guinness, an Irish Sport Horse, and Boo, a Percheron draft horse, call home.
Days are busy but calm at the Chiapetta farm, but last week was anything but calm for Dr. Jim Chiapetta, his wife, Michelle, and their four children, the youngest of which graduates from Delano High School June 1.
Instead of the sounds of trotting horses and singing birds serving as background music to their lives, starting May 19, the Chiappettas listened to the ringing of telephones almost non-stop. All because of the 3-by-5-inch adhesive equine nasal strip Dr. Chiapetta co-invented, called the FLAIR Equine Nasal Strip.
It’s the now-famous adhesive strip worn by California Chrome to wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
“When I got home last night, I just slumped. It’s been fun and you get that adrenaline rush, but then you crash after it,” said Chiapetta via the telephone from California. “We have been very blessed with the friends and support and all the media attention. It’s been hectic, with regular events and all the extras.”
With his position at FLAIR, LLC, the list of regular events for Chiapetta involves working as the chief patent counsel of neuromodulation at Boston Scientific, as well as working out his body at Core Fit ‘N Motion, and his mind at Light of Christ Church in Delano.
Chiapetta returned to Delano for the Memorial Day weekend, and was looking forward to the peace and quiet of working on the farm, where he knew Michelle had some landscaping duties lined up.
As for May 31, when California Chrome runs for the Triple Crown, will Chiapetta be at Belmont Park on Long Island?
“That remains to be determined,” he said. “I might just want to stay home and watch the race with some friends.”
Whether his seat is a cozy, overstuffed couch in Delano or a formal table-side chair in New York, there is no doubt Chiapetta will watch closely, hoping California Chrome wins by a nose. A nose decorated by a FLAIR nasal strip.
Getting to the Belmont
The phone calls last week came from all over the world from media outlets looking for a comment from the FLAIR inventor after the New York Racing Association (NYRA) dissolved a rule that did not allow horses to wear the FLAIR strip at tracks in the state of New York.
The attention has spiked for Chiapetta and his FLAIR partner, Dr. Ed Blach, but they were not caught off guard.
“We knew something might come up if (California Chrome) won the Preakness. People were outraged and at least asking for answers for why there was a ban.”
FLAIR had been trying to convince the NYRA that their product is safe and beneficial to the horse since it introduced the product in 1999, but the commission balked over two issues whether FLAIR was a performance enhancer, and how it would affect betting and handicapping. The NYRA finally started listening to Chiapetta and Blach in 2012.
“This has been going on for 15 years, and they didn’t respond to inquiries until I’ll Have Another came along,” Chiapetta said.
The horse I’ll Have Another, which wore a FLAIR nasal strip, was set to run for the Triple Crown in 2012, before pulling out of the Belmont Stakes because of tendonitis.
Only after California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said his horse might not run in the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, if he were not allowed to wear the nasal strip, did the NYRA unanimously vote to erase the rule from its books.
The pressure was building on the NYRA, considering the last time a horse won the Triple Crown was in 1978. That horse was Affirmed.
FLAIR is pulling for California Chrome to end the drought.
“It would be a landmark event,” said Blach, FLAIR’s chief operating officer. “It hasn’t happened since I was in high school.”
Blach, who spoke on the phone from Monument, CO, is 55 years old.
Even if California Chrome does not win the Belmont and the coveted Triple Crown, the inventors of the FLAIR strip have come to appreciate what the horse has done for them in a two-week time period since winning the Preakness.
“It’s been a great experience. We realize these situations come by rarely in life. We are grateful for the support and all the attention early in the week. We received calls and contact from all over the world,” Blach said. “The groundswell of support was tremendous for us. It’s been fun.”
Chiapetta and Blach also appreciate those who helped FLAIR grow from the beginning.
“A lot of people supported us and helped us overcome some obstacles like the lack of approval in New York,” said Blach.
Blach didn’t share numbers, but noted the obvious that the company is benefitting from the attention.
“The interest level has greatly increased since (the decision by the NYRA),” said Blach. “We went from positive growth to a dramatic increase in attention and awareness. We expect demand to increase accordingly.”
Chiapetta echoed his partner’s take on the demand swell.
“The numbers are up and everybody has been busy,” he said, then noting it is difficult to accurately judge the numbers so soon after the media attention.
“The press has been pretty significant, especially on the major sports channels, but you have to consider the number of people who watch those shows who actually have horses who would use the strip. You have to question if those are the target audiences.”
The idea for the FLAIR nasal strip came to Blach when he wasn’t trying to come up with a new product, but while he was sleeping.
“I got up in the middle of the night from a dead sleep and called Jim,” said Blach, who had met Chiapetta in 1984, when the two were doing their veterinarian internships together in Littleton, CO. “We have always had a passion for innovation. We have thrown what-ifs back and forth. This was one of those.”
Brainstorming ideas was nothing new for Chiapetta and Blach. It was common for the two to get tangled in phone conversations late at night, while their families were sleeping, to discuss ideas.
“Jim has an amazing ability to bring things to fruition and to figure out the right way to do it,” said Blach. “Together, we make a great team.”
Initially, Chiapetta and Blach licensed FLAIR through the Bloomington-based company CNS, Inc., which makes Breathe Right nasal strips for humans, and officially introduced the FLAIR strips to the horse-racing community at the 1999 Breeders Cup at Gulfstream Park in Hollywood, FL.
“We hoped to get them on three horses that won three races,” Chiapetta said of their goal on launch day. “After six races, there was a guy putting leg wraps on a filly and he said, ‘Hey, Doc, can I have one of those nasal strips?’ He put a strip on a filly at 30-to-1 odds, and low and behold, she won.”
The initial response to the product revolved around the unknown.
“A lot of questions. People didn’t know what to do with it and what to think of it,” said Blach.
Questions arose simply because not many studies concerning a horse’s respiratory physiology during exertion had been done. Blach said he still hears interviews where professional horse veterinarians speak errantly when discussing respiration.
“(Developing FLAIR) required a lot of independent research to validate our original hypothesis,” Blach said. “Over time, the horse industry has made a lot of progress.”
The marketing campaign on the company’s web page www.flairstrips.com points out the benefits in the following statement:
FLAIR Strips provide benefits for all horses including intensively trained horses as well as for horses that only exert themselves during occasional weekend competitions or trail rides.
During exercise when horses begin to breathe hard the soft tissues overlying the nasal passages are sucked in, reducing the airway diameter. This reduction in diameter causes greater resistance to airflow into the lungs. FLAIR Strips gently support the soft tissues over the nasal passages providing reduced airway resistance during exercise.
By reducing airway resistance during exercise, FLAIR Strips help prevent fatigue-related injuries, help protect the lungs from injury and bleeding and promote optimal athletic performance.
“Our company is all about a drug-free product that will help the horses,” Blach said.
“It is all about protecting the horse’s health and helping it breathe easier,” said Chiapetta, who once ran a veterinary clinic across from Canterbury Park. “But, if people think this will turn their horse into Secretariat, that will not happen.”
While California Chrome has put FLAIR on the front pages of newspapers around the globe, thoroughbred racing is just one area the nasal strips are used in the equestrian world. Barrel racing is one of the fastest growing competitions where horses are using FLAIR strips.
“Any type of equestrian event that requires exhaustion to maximum capacity,” Blach said.
FLAIR has since broken off from CNS. The home office is at Chiapetta’s home south of Delano, and the product is manufactured in Minnesota.
“We ship all over the world,” said Chiapetta. “We manufacture in Minnesota, and to see our product show up all over world is fun.”
Over the past 15 years, the equestrian community has come to discover the benefits of the FLAIR Nasal Strip. California Chrome wasn’t the only horse to wear the strip during the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
At the Kentucky Derby, Louisiana Derby winner Vicar’s In Trouble wore one of the nasal strips, and, at the Preakness, Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact wore one. California Chrome wears a white colored strip, and Vicor’s In Trouble and Dynamic Impact wore black versions.
According to FLAIR representative Barkley Porter, who was in New York late last week introducing the nasal strips to owners and trainers for the first time, a FLAIR nasal strip has been worn to victory in 36 stakes races throughout the United States, with the purse from those wins totalling $6.4 million.
FLAIR hopes those winnings increase $800,000. That’s the amount that would be awarded to California Chrome if he wins the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome winning the Triple Crown would be a breath of fresh air to the world of horse racing. An easier breath to take, thanks to FLAIR nasal strips.