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Black Onyx: Contender or Pretender?

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 


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Older Comments about Black Onyx: Contender or Pretender?...

I say pretender
NONE REPORTED, horses work all the time wiuthout the public knowing about it.
looking for a workout none since sprial stakes ??
two pace scenarios 46 1:13 another 45 2/5 110 I will chose the horse coming from the latter any day even if he lost ground to that pace somewhat.
FINAL TIME can never be looked at as anything other than a punctuation mark and the end of pace pressure. IT IS WHAT PREDEEDS it that is all important. Faster final times are often the result of a soft pace. Horse comes back against a contending pace, gets over exerted early and can NEVER reproduce that time again. Think of it as the last chapter is a book. How will you know the STORY when you only evaluate the last chapter???
I don't think Black Onyx is a pretender. His time wasn't much slower than one Spiral winner who won the Kentucky Derby and it was faster than another one who did the same thing. With this guy, we just have to see how he likes the track at CD. I also thought Uncaptured's performance was impressive off the layoff and into a deep track at a distance he'd never run before.
I meant Mary..typo. it..thanks for sharing..I'll have some picks after this weekend I'm sure.
Hear The Ghost and Verrazano, jinlie. I like a few others, too, but those are my top two.
I'm sure you're wrong.
Mary- You did call this horse pre race so I am sure he is top two with Uncaptured?...
Mary..who's your top two? I still haven't locked down any at this point...
Ashley, I like Black Onyx. He's impressed me both times I've seen him run. I'll be in the minority with contender, although I like two others as my top Derby hopefuls.
even though he made my weekend by winning the Spiral Stakes..I would have to say Pretender.
I say Black Onyx is a Pretender for the Kentucky Derby.
i have to agree with bigbill..but it will be great to see all the suckers put money on this horse because he won a 'big race'
no more spiral winner that prep is out he is not a animalkingdom or liletee sorry he will kust be a horse runing around the track to take up space
I've been watching Black Onyx since the beginning of the year. He was my selection to win the Spiral, and I nailed it. The talent is there, and I thought that was a good (good, not stellar) field he beat.
Good Day fellow cappers - As i read these comments I find myself experiencing Deja Vu all over again. I was at the Spiral with some of my colleagues, and they were all crying the same song. "Crappy Field", "Lousy turn-out", no talent". I think it's funny. everytime the favorites get beat, everyone crys about the one who won. Pretenter? yes, very possible. But lets remember horses like 'Mine that Bird'..that colt didnt know he was 50-1, he was just a colt that has a good lane; good Jock; and a lot of luck! Furthermore, regardless of the pedigree / Training / Class / post position? any horse can get bumped..get caught in the lane, Boxed out, or just plain ol' have a bad trip. This is why I usually play with the long shots ☺☺
I look forward to seeing Black Onyx run at Monmouth this summer, but I don't see him being a factor in the Derby.

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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