Black Onyx wasn't nominated to the Triple Crown before the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park Saturday, but when the dark bay colt crossed the wire 1 1/2 lengths the best, owner Sam Herzberg was immediately ready to put up the late nomination fee.
"That was the plan," said trainer Kelly Breen, reached by phone a few minutes after the race. "If he won the Spiral, his next start would be the Derby. He's not nominated now, but he will be, in about 15 minutes."
Early nominations to the Triple Crown required payment of $600 and closed January 26. As it happened, late nominations, which carry a $6,000 fee, close Spiral Stakes day.
The post-race decisions may have gone according to plan, but the Spiral Stakes itself did not, at least in the early going. Black Onyx broke from post nine but was the eighth horse to leave the gate in the field of 12 3-year-olds. While Mac the Man and Giant Finish sprinted for the lead, Black Onyx dallied.
"We had pulled out the past performances and planned the trip, and then the gates opened and he was sluggish," said jockey Joe Bravo. "I was saying to myself, 'Don't tell me he's not taking to the track.' But after an eighth of a mile he took hold of the bit and started pulling me along."
Bravo put Black Onyx about mid-pack and to the outside. At the three-eighths pole he asked the colt to go, caught up with the leaders, and hit the front as the field turned for home. Taken by the Storm, who had overtaken the early leaders with less than three furlongs to go, stayed with Black Onyx into the stretch but couldn't keep pace and finished fourth. Uncaptured, the dual graded stakes winner who was making his first start since November, was up for second, a length behind the winner. The 23-1 long shot Giant Finish did well to stay close throughout the 1 1/8 mile race and finished another length back in third.
After setting the first quarter in :23.74, Mac the Man settled into a textbook :48.30 for the half. Taken by the Storm continued the sensible pace in his turn, going six furlongs in 1:13 flat. Black Onyx set the final time at 1:51.98.
Off at 15.70-to-1, Black Onyx rewarded his backers with $33.40 to win, $14.20 to place, and $10.80 to show. The 9-3-10-11 Superfecta paid $47,274.
Finishing fifth and back were Fear the Kitten, For Greater Glory, Channel Isle, the 3-1 favorite My Name is Michael, Capo Bastone, General Election, Balance the Books, and Mac the Man, who dropped back after a half-mile and was eased in the stretch.
The Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes is the first stakes win for Black Onyx, whose record now stands at three wins and a second in five starts. The winner's share of the Spiral purse—$317,130—pushed his earnings to $407,810 for Herzberg's Sterling Racing. The colt has now won on all three racing surfaces: dirt, turf, and Polytrack.
"He's proven he's a multi-talented horse," said Breen.
Black Onyx was bred in Kentucky by Cloverleaf Farms II, Inc. and is by Rock Hard Ten out of the Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat.