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Nasal strip puts MGM Grand in winner’s circle


California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid took it on the nose Saturday but an MGM Grand marketing move paid off nicely.

During a recent breakfast in San Diego, California Chrome jockey Victor Espinoza and MGM Grand president Scott Sibella were discussing the decision by New York racing officials to allow equine nasal strips in the Belmont Stakes.

The ban was lifted after California Chrome’s owner threatened to pull the horse from the third leg of the Triple Crown. Sibella asked Espinoza if a jockey could wear a sponsored nasal strip in the Belmont.

The answer came Friday when Espinoza tweeted a photo that showed him wearing an MGM Grand nasal strip. The MGM Grand handed out the branded nasal strips to guests on Saturday.

“Priceless,” responded Sibella, in a text to friends as NBC showed Espinoza wearing the sponsored nasal strip on Saturday. California Chrome, the overwhelming favorite, finished in a tie for fourth. The sponsorship was likely worth millions in publicity to the MGM Grand.

REMEMBERING MICHAEL

Michael Jackson’s former security guards have teamed up on the ultimate insider account of the King of Pop’s last 2½ years, most of it in Las Vegas.

Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard were the everyday gatekeepers after Jackson arrived here unannounced at Christmas 2006, ending 18 months of self-exile overseas.

His return to the United States was first reported here Dec. 23, the day after Jackson’s arrival.

In their new book, “Remember the Time,” Whitfield, a security guard at Agassi Prep for the past four years, and Beard reveal how Jackson’s Las Vegas comeback plan fizzled along with family drama. Jackson died June 25, 2009, at his home in Los Angeles from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol.

Revelations in the book include:

■ Jackson missed the 75th birthday party of close friend Elizabeth Taylor on Feb. 27, 2007, at Lake Las Vegas because of family drama. As he was preparing to leave his westside residence at 2785 S. Monte Cristo Way, a car crashed through the gate. It was his brother, Randy, insisting he wouldn’t move his car until he was paid money he was owed. Michael refused to see him. An impasse developed and Michael decided not to attend Taylor’s soiree out of a concern that Randy would follow him there and make a scene. “He was devastated,” Whitfield said.

■ Jackson’s disguises included two- to three-hour makeup sessions. When that rarely worked, he resorted to one of his best: dressing up as a motorcycle biker, including a helmet. No one recognized him during his mile-plus walk from Bellagio to Excalibur but it was a warm night and he was drenched in sweat when his sightseeing trip ended. His most-used disguise was wrapping his face with gauze, as though he was a burn victim.

■ Jackson was livid when he discovered that Cirque du Soleil had opened “Love,” a collaboration with The Beatles, at The Mirage. “Nobody asked me about that,” he told Beard. “They didn’t get my permission for that.” He owned the rights to The Beatles’ songs after paying a reported $47.5 million for between 160 and 260 Beatles songs, including “Yesterday” and “Let it Be.”

■ According to the book, the thing Jackson wanted most was the thing he couldn’t have: the Sultan of Brunei’s massive luxury compound near Spanish Trail Country Club. He checked it out numerous times. “He was going to name it Wonderland,” Whitfield said in the book.

■ Jackson loved hot sauce so much he filled “shelves and shelves” with Tabasco sauce at the Monte Cristo residence. “He liked putting it on his popcorn,” Whitfield told me.

The hoped-for Las Vegas headliner residency never came close to happening, Whitfield told me.

Las Vegas dealmaker Jack Wishna, who had convinced Jackson to move here from Ireland to launch his comeback, had meeting after meeting — many with Steve Wynn — and pitched the idea of having a venue built for Jackson like the one Caesars Palace built for Celine Dion.

Jackson had reservations about committing to five shows a week. He preferred three.

Wishna later told me it became clear early it was a lost cause, hinting Jackson was a mess. Whitfield had another reason why prospective casinos may have taken a pass.

“One thing a lot of people aren’t aware of,” Whitfield said Saturday, “is it was decided the ‘This is It’ tour would be overseas because, with all the lawsuits, they would have put liens on his Las Vegas show.”

THE SCENE AND HEARD

The Los Angeles Dodgers second-round selection in the Major League Baseball draft is a cousin of Nevada Athletic Commission chairman Francisco Aguilar. Alex Verdugo, 18, was a two-way star at Tucson’s Sahuaro High School. The 62nd player taken, Verdugo had committed to Arizona State but plans to sign with the Dodgers, who want him as a left-handed-hitting outfielder. During family holiday visits to Las Vegas, Verdugo worked out with Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi’s longtime trainer. Aguilar grew up in Tucson.

SIGHTINGS

Los Angeles Clippers All-Star guard Chris Paul, with friends at Tao Asian Bistro (The Venetian) on Friday. Paul’s favorite dessert, Oreo Zeppole, was sent over from Tao’s sister restaurant, Lavo (Palazzo). Also at Tao Asian Bistro on Friday: Jermaine O’Neal of the Golden State Warriors. … Two dozen rugby players from Ireland and England, celebrating at a bachelor party for Irish rugby star Geordan Murphy at Crush (MGM Grand) on Friday and La Comida.

THE PUNCH LINE

“This (Bowe) Bergdahl guy was in a Taliban prison for five years, and he’s now recovering in a hospital in Germany. The reason he is in Germany is because he couldn’t get into a VA hospital until 2020.” — David Letterman

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more at normclarke.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter.