Sterling Racing's Black Onyx made his stakes debut a winning one and secured a Kentucky Derby berth in Saturday's Grade 3, $550,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, posting a 1 1/2-length decision over Uncaptured. A turf allowance scorer in his previous outing at Gulfstream Park, the Kelly Breen-trained colt has now won three of five career starts. Joe Bravo was up.
Black Onyx earned 50 points in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system for the win.
"He's proven he's a multi-talented horse," Breen said by phone. "He's won on dirt, on turf, and now on Polytrack. The plan was -- if he won -- that we wouldn't run again until the Derby. His next start will be the Derby."
After not being nominated to the Triple Crown by the early deadline, Black Onyx's connections will make him a late nominee.
"He will be, in about 15 minutes, as soon as I get off the phone with you," Breen noted.
The son of Rock Hard Ten stalked the pace in fifth as Mac the Man sprinted forward at the break and completed the opening quarter-mile in :23 3/5. The pacesetter was being closely tracked by Giant Finish and Taken By the Storm entering the backstretch, and Black Onyx was only 2 1/2 lengths back after a half-mile in :48 1/5, racing closely with Uncaptured and My Name is Michael.
Bravo expected his mount to show more speed and was a bit concerned after the opening stages.
"We pulled out the PPs and planned the trip out and the gates opened and he was sluggish. I was saying, 'Don't tell me he's not taking the track,'" the jockey explained. "After an eighth of a mile he took hold of the bit and started pulling me along."
Taken by the Storm moved to the fore on the far turn when the pacesetter began to weaken, reaching the six-furlong mark in 1:13 with a half-length advantage, but Black Onyx was also making serious headway and overhauled his rival after straightening into the stretch drive, forging his way to a short lead. Uncaptured was also in the mix as well at the head of the lane and it quickly became a two-horse affair.
Uncaptured, who was making his first appearance since winning last fall's Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, momentarily loomed a danger as he tried determinedly to catch Black Onyx in the final furlong, but the winner had more than enough in reserve and finished the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:51 4/5.
"I was watching Miguel Mena (jockey of Uncaptured), because I respect that horse, but it didn't look like that horse was handling as well as mine," Bravo said. "After (a sluggish start), my horse settled down and it was all over."
Off as the 15-1 sixth choice among 12 opponents, Black Onyx paid $33.40, $14.20 and $10.80 to his supporters.
"Kelly sure had him ready to run," assistant trainer Jim Reed said. "Despite his odds on the tote board, I liked the way the race set up. There was going to be a little more speed in front of us and we could finish at the end."
Uncaptured wound up a length clear in second as the 3-1 second favorite.
"My horse was trying really hard. He was just getting a little tired," Mena said of the runner-up. "He really needed the race. He was getting tired from the eighth pole. He's such a good horse and has such a deep heart. He just keeps on trying. He just never gives up. He broke really well for me today and we had a great trip. No problems at all. We were trying to save some horse, and I thought I was going to have it."
"I was extremely happy. It's been a really long road getting there," trainer Mark Casse said of Uncaptured. "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 (Grade 1) Blue Grass Stakes (on April 13), and then into the Derby. You never know (about getting the distance). But we do know one thing: he's two-for-two at Churchill Downs. And judging by the way he ran and by the way he rated, I don't see how distance would be an issue."
Giant Finish grabbed third, a length better than fourth-placer Taken By the Storm, who was followed under the wire by Fear the Kitten, For Greater Glory, Channel Isle, 3-1 favorite My Name is Michael, Capo Bastone, General Election and Balance the Books. Mac the Man was eased and walked off the track.
Black Onyx made his career debut last October at Belmont Park, finishing second in an off-the-turf maiden special weight, and captured his next outing on November 11, taking an off-the-turf maiden at Aqueduct. He opened his three-year-old season with a non-threatening fourth in a Gulfstream Park allowance on the main track and then switched to turf for his last start, posting an aforementioned win on February 23.
With Saturday's $317,130 payday, the dark bay increased his lifetime earnings to $407,810 from a 5-3-1-0 mark.
Bred in Kentucky by Cloverleaf Farms II Inc., Black Onyx was purchased for $125,000 at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale. He is out of the winning Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat, making him a half-brother to stakes winner Francois and Grade 2-placed Quality Council, and his broodmare is a half-sister to Grade 3-placed stakes winner Desert Gold, the dam of Group 1 winner White Moonstone.
Black Onyx's third maternal dam produced Desert Stormer, who captured the 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint over males. Desert Stormer is responsible for Grade 2 winner Sahara Gold, dam of Grade 1 heroine Better Lucky, and another daughter produced multiple Grade 2 victor Casino Host.