By Dick Downey
Pat Lang Photography
Black Onyx came out of a Gulfstream Park turf allowance race to win the Grade III Spiral Stakes in his first stakes effort -- and now it's on to the Kentucky Derby.
Rated by Joe Bravo in fifth and sixth in the early going just behind Uncaptured, Black Onyx was never far off the pace. With a quarter-mile run in :23.74 and a half in :48.30, he was 4 1/2, then 2 1/2 lengths back of the pace set by Mac the Man. Mac the Man began to fade as the field headed for the far turn, impeding an oncoming Fear the Kitten. Taken by the Storm got the lead with six furlongs run in 1:13.00, with Giant Finish just behind and Black Onyx third, a length back of the lead. Uncaptured was right there in fourth position, where he'd been all the way.
Black Onyx challenged Taken by the Storm into the stretch and got by him inside the furlong marker for the win. Uncaptured stayed on for the place, beaten 1 1/2 length. Giant Finish was another length back in third, and it was another length to fourth and Taken by the Storm.
Those four were followed across the finish line by Fear the Kitten, For Greater Glory, Channel Isle, My Name Is Michael, Capo Bastone, General Election, Balance the Books and Mac the Man.
The 1 1/8-mile race was timed in 1:51.98.
Black Onyx, sent off at 15-1 odds, returned $33.40 to win, $14.20 to place and $10.80 to show.
Black Onyx, from the barn of Kelly Breen, had two starts last year, both of them taken off the turf, but he ran pretty well on dirt rated fast. He finished second in his 1 1/16-mile, one-turn debut at Belmont Park and won going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct. However, his dirt debut this year, at 1 1/16 mile at Gulfstream Park, did not go well. He finally got a turf race that stayed on the intended surface at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23 and won impressively. Switched to Polytrack in the Spiral, Black Onyx is now in the Kentucky Derby picture.
Black Onyx, a son of Rock Hard Ten, earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points -- which will be awarded to him after he's late-nominated to the Triple Crown. The deadline for that was midnight on Spiral Day, and owner Sam Herzberg confirmed that it would happen. That puts Black Onyx in a tie for second in the Derby points race with Hear the Ghost, Orb, Verrazano and Vyjack. Will Take Charges leads them all with 60 points.
Herzberg said after the Spiral that Black Onyx will be trained up to the first Saturday in May. Trainer Kelly Breen echoed that by telephone from New York, where he saddled Ruler on Ice to a fifth-place finish in the Excelsior Stakes for longtime connections George and Lori Hall.
Uncaptured, trained by Mark Casse, picked up 20 Kentucky Derby points, pushing his total to 30 and putting him at number 8 on the leaderboard. Giant Finish got 10 points. He also wasn't early-nominated to the Triple Crown but trainer Tony Dutrow said that, pending a discussion with ownership, it's highly likely that Giant Finish will be nominated. Taken by the Storm, trained by Ken McPeek received five Derby points.
Black Onyx was bred in Kentucky by Cloverleaf Farms II and is out of Kalahari Cat, by Capetown. He was foaled on April 15, 2010.
Joe Bravo: “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.’ After an eighth of a mile, he took hold of the bit and started pulling me along. I was watching Miguel Mena (jockey of Uncaptured), because I respect that horse, but it didn’t look like that horse was handling it as well as mine. After that, my horse settled down, and it was all over. I’ve known the owners for seven or eight years. We used to play poker together. We hang out a few nights a week and go to (Miami) Heat games together. I never handicapped a race as much as this one, ever. I knew every horse inside and out before we left the gate.”
Kelly Breen, by phone: “He’s proven he’s a multi-talented horse. 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.”
On not being nominated to the Triple Crown: “He will be, in about 15 minutes, as soon as I get off the phone with you.”
Breen also said Joe Bravo would continue to have the mount.
Jim Reed, assistant to Kelly Breen: “Kelly sure had him ready to run. 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. I sure don’t have any ideas on future plans. Kelly will have to take care of that. But I’m sure that they’re looking to go to Churchill, somehow, some way.”
Miguel Mena, on Uncaptured: "My horse was trying really hard. He was just getting a little tired. 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."
Mark Casse, trainer of Uncaptured: "I was extremely happy. It's been a really long road getting there. For him to run farther than he ever has in his first start in four months, he performed very well. If all goes well, we'll go from here to the Blue Grass Stakes, 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."
Jose Espinoza, Giant Finish: “He took a very good position, and he kept dragging me all the way around. When I asked him to go, I thought he’d have a lot of kick in the end, but he just kept on with a steady run. He’s pretty much a professional horse. He has a lot of class.”
Mark Hubley, assistant to Anthony Dutrow: “Really pleased with the effort (of Giant Finish). He tends to hang a little bit, but I thought overall he ran well.”
Joel Rosario, on beaten favorite My Name is Michael: : “He was taking a little time to get going in the first turn. Past the turn, he was fine after that, but when we went into the second turn it took him a lot of time to really get into the race. I was working to hold him together and keep him going, but it was probably not his day.”