A Triple Crown nominee

CHESTER – Only I Know, a 3-year-old gelding, figures to be heavily favored in Tuesday’s featured $22,200 allowance sprint at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. In his only prior career start on Dec. 28 at Mountaineer, Only I Know led wire-to-wire, prevailing by 12 lengths in maiden allowance company.

He has been nominated to the 2014 Triple Crown, which is an unusual circumstance for a horse based in these parts.

“We’re hoping that he does become something special,” said Debra E. Rombis, who co-owns and trains Only I Know. “And we do believe that he will develop into a distance horse.”

Classic distances – the 1 miles of the Kentucky Derby, the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness, and the 1 miles of the Belmont Stakes – require classic breeding. Only I Know’s sire, Flower Alley, finished unplaced in his only effort in a Triple Crown event, the 2005 Derby.

But Flower Alley won the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. And he also was second in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park, finishing just a length behind Horse of the Year Saint Liam. Both events are run at the 1-mile distance. Flower Alley had what horsemen refer to as proven staying ability.

Only I Know’s dam, Cuz You Never Know, was a sprinter. She broke her maiden for a $25,000 claiming tag at Hollywood Park, and subsequently won in starter allowance and optional claiming company at Golden Gate Fields. Her career purse earnings totaled a modest $52,000.

Her five-generation pedigree, however, includes Secretariat, Northern Dancer (top and bottom sides), Bold Ruler, Damascus, Native Dancer and Sword Dancer, all of whom were victorious in one or more Triple Crown events.

The potency of a thoroughbred’s genes has been known to miss several generations, then suddenly re-emerge. It remains one of the mysteries of the breed as to if and when that could happen.

Bred in Kentucky by Three Chimneys Farm (one of the premier outfits in the business), Only I Know was purchased as a weanling for just $1,200 at Keeneland in November 2011. The buyer was Michigan horseman E.J. Hubel. He subsequently sold the gelding for $10,000 to fellow Michigander Scott Bowerman, who heads the 35-member Flying G Racing LLC partnership.

“Only I Know had a lung infection at age 2, and we had to be patient until it cleared,” said Bowerman. The gelding’s career debut, at six furlongs on a muddy track, was completed in a time of 1:16.19.

That clocking might seem woefully slow, but Mountaineer’s dirt oval was a muddy bog that night. As Bowerman notes, “the Equibase speed figure for Only I Know in the race was 87, the highest for any 2-year-old debuting at Mountaineer in at least six years.”

Tuesday’s allowance will include older horses and will be run at the five-furlong distance. For Rombis, Bowerman et al. it could be another step toward the dream, so often deferred, of having a major stakes competitor.

Getting a thoroughbred to the post in any Triple Crown race is an intricate labyrinth of pathways and passages. According to the Jockey Club, the 2010 registered thoroughbred foal crop in North America numbered approximately 28,500.

Of these, 19 ran in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Nine ran in the Preakness. And 14 ran in the Belmont Stakes. Only three competed in all three events: Orb, the Derby winner; Oxbow, who won the Preakness; and Will Take Charge, who went to win the Eclipse Award as 3-year-old champion.

But there are other events on the calendar, too.

“What we’d really like to do with Only I Know is win the West Virginia Derby,” said Bowerman. The Grade 2, $750,000 event will be run at Mountaineer on Aug. 2.