Black Onyx hit my radar on the first day of the New Year when he raced on the Gulfstream Park Derby undercard. To date, his fourth place finish in that race is his only off the board finish, and it has also been his only race over a fast dirt track. His first two starts were scheduled to be run on the turf, but due to inclement weather, both were pulled off the turf and run on the sloppy main track instead. He finished second in his debut and then broke his maiden at second asking. After finishing well behind winner Bradester over the fast Gulfstream Park track, trainer Kelly Breen moved the Rock Hard Ten colt to the turf. In his first start over the lawn in three attempts, Black Onyx defeated eventual Rushaway Stakes winner Crop Report.
His turf win earned Black Onyx his chance to try to make it to Churchill Downs via the G3 Spiral Stakes. In his first start over a synthetic track, Black Onyx came home a winner and punched his ticket to Kentucky on the first Saturday in May. He beat a talented field which included multiple graded stakes winners Balance the Books and Uncaptured. Despite his win, people question whether or not the nearly black colt will be a factor come Kentucky Derby day.
Neither distance nor surface should be a problem for Black Onyx. The colt’s sire Rock Hard Ten was strictly a dirt runner, but he has become known for producing turf and synthetics specialists. Rock Hard Ten progeny have shown the ability to run on any surface, however. So far, most of his progeny have done best at middle distances, but the son of Kris S. has Nereid and Capital Plan, both graded stakes winners at 10 furlongs, to his credit. Black Onyx’s dam Kalahari Cat has produced winners on all three surfaces, as well, in the short time she has been in the breeding shed. Black Onyx’s half-brother Francois (by Smarty Jones) was a stakes winner on synthetics, his half-sister Conspicuous (by Ghostzapper) was a winner on the turf, and his half-brother Quality Council (by Elusive Quality) was a winner and graded stakes placed on the dirt. As far as his pedigree is concerned, this is just a quick summary to prove a point. For a detailed analysis of Black Onyx’s pedigree, click here.
These days not all Derby contenders take a conventional dirt route to get to the Run for the Roses. Barbaro, hero of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, made his first three career starts on turf before moving to the dirt to prep for the big dance. Similarly, 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown began and ended his career on the lawn. Animal Kingdom, the 2011 winner, made his very first career start on the dirt in that year’s edition of the Kentucky Derby. Like Black Onyx, Animal Kingdom used the Spiral as his Derby prep. Though having prior experience on the dirt is certainly helpful, as Animal Kingdom showed, it is not necessary. Black Onyx has the benefit of having experience over the dirt, and though his lone dirt win was on a sloppy track, he nonetheless has wins on all three surfaces, making him a dangerous, versatile threat.
Though Black Onyx has shown that he does not prefer a fast, dirt track, he should have no problem with the Churchill Downs surface. Over the years, the main track at Churchill Downs has proved to be kind to turf and synthetics runners. For an example of this, look no further than last year’s Kentucky Derby third place finisher Dullahan. Despite many tries over dirt, Dullahan never won over the surface, but he was a fast closing third in last year’s Kentucky Derby.
Whether or not Black Onyx wins this year’s Kentucky Derby remains to be seen, but he certainly has as good a chance as any of the other nineteen three-year olds he will face in that race. With the Derby field being so large, the proper question, I believe, should not be can he do it but will he do it. Of course, that question applies to the entire field and not just him. He has shown that he can win over any surface, though he prefers a sloppy dirt track to a fast one. His breeding suggests that distance will not be an issue, and Churchill Downs has proven to be kind to runners that prefer turf or synthetics. With both his sire and dam being late developers, I suspect that we have not seen Black Onyx’s best running just yet. He is poised to continue to improve, making him a legitimate contender come May.
Photo courtesy of Pat Lang Photography