Sterling Racing's Black Onyx ran his way into the picture for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with a 1 1/2-length victory in the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) March 23 at Turfway Park, collecting 50 qualifying points for the Derby field and notching his first stakes score in the process (VIDEO).
"The plan was, if he won, we wouldn't have to run again until the Derby," trainer Kelly Breen said from Aqueduct Racetrack, where he saddled 2011 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Ruler On Ice to a fifth-place finish in the Excelsior Stakes (gr. III).
Owner Sam Herzberg immediately nominated the 3-year-old son of Rock Hard Ten to the Triple Crown; he had until midnight EDT to indicate he would pay the $6,000 fee. Off at odds of 15-1, Black Onyx outran 2012 Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) winner Uncaptured, trained by Mark Casse, and John Battaglia Memorial runner-up Giant Finish from the barn of trainer Tony Dutrow.
Dutrow said it was likely third-place finisher Giant Finish would be a late nominee to the Triple Crown races as well.
Black Onyx, a $125,000 yearling purchase from the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale, came off a Feb. 23 allowance score on the Gulfstream Park turf against 11 other sophomores. He went 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.98, closing with a strong outside move before drawing off under right-handed urging from jockey Joe Bravo to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
"The gates opened and he was sluggish," Bravo said. "I was saying, 'Don't tell me he's not taking to the track.' After an eighth of a mile he took hold of the bit and started pulling me along."
Black Onyx was fifth behind a pace set by local prep winner Mac the Man, who went a quarter in :23.74 and the half in :48.30 before surrendering to Taken by the Storm after three-quarters in 1:13 flat. Uncaptured was racing fourth and made his move after shifting out coming into the stretch, with Black Onyx turning in a steady run around the turn.
Black Onyx struck the lead at the top of the stretch and battled to hold off Uncaptured through a mile in 1:38.36 before pulling away late. Giant Finish took third, 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
"I was watching Miguel Mena (on Uncaptured) because I respect that horse, but it didn't look like that horse was handling as well as mine," Bravo said. "After that, my horse settled down and it was all over."
Casse said he was not disappointed with Uncaptured for a runner-up finish in his first start since last November.
"It's been a really long road getting there," Casse said. "For him to run farther than he ever has in his first start in four months, he performed very well. Yes, the Kentucky Derby is still in mind. If all goes well, we'll go from here to the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), then into the Derby... judging by the way he ran and by the way he rated, I don't see how distance would be an issue."
Black Onyx returned $33.40, $14.20, and $10.80, Uncaptured paid $5.80 and $4.80, and Giant Finish brought $14.40. Taken by the Storm, Fear the Kitten, For Greater Glory, Channel Isle, 3-1 favorite My Name is Michael, Capo Bastone, General Election, Balance the Books, and Mac the Man completed the order of finish.
Trainer Jeff Greenhill reported no serious skeletal damage to Mac the Man, who was eased and walked off the track, and also reported the colt scoped clean.
Black Onyx broke his maiden last November going a mile in the slop at Aqueduct when trained by Carl Domino. He was transferred to Breen after running fourth in his season debut at Gulfstream, and is 2-for-2 since then. The Spiral victory improved his record to three wins and a second from five starts, with earnings of $407,810. He was bred in Kentucky by Cloverleaf Farms out of the Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat and is now third in the rankings for the Kentucky Derby field behind Will Take Charge and Vyjack.