Monday, April 29, 2013

Derby Hopeful: Black Onyx

Derby Hopefuls feature the horses I view as the best contenders leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Each horse spotlighted in a Derby Hopeful will join the 2013 PTG Derby Hopeful roster, found on the right side of the blog. Horses will be listed in an order that corresponds to how highly I think of them, with the horse I think most highly of ranking at the top. A horse featured in a Derby Hopeful may be taken off the roster if its performances after its article are published are not up to par or if that horse is taken off the Triple Crown trail, though those articles will remain on my blog.

The Spiral Stakes (GIII), which has been contested under various names, is a rather underestimated prep race when it comes to the Kentucky Derby (GI), considering it has produced two Derby victors. In recent years, horses like 2011 Derby champion Animal Kingdom, 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun, and 2012 impressive fourth-place finisher Went the Day Well used the Turfway Park Derby prep as a launching pad for the first Saturday in May. How will it set up this year’s Spiral winner, Black Onyx?

A dark-colored colt with a contrasting white blaze, Black Onyx made his first two starts in races that had originally been scheduled for the turf but were instead held over fast dirt tracks. The colt was second in his debut at Belmont Park in October of his two-year-old campaign and although he was defeated by 6 ¼ lengths in that start, he was clearly second best, finishing 6 ½ lengths ahead of the third-place finisher. A month later, the colt broke his maiden going one mile at Aqueduct, sitting off the pace before drawing away to an easy 2 ¼-length victory.

Black Onyx’s 2013 season began with a loss in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming event over Gulfstream Park’s dirt surface. But a start in a race of the same level at the same track and the same distance – but on turf – saw the colt make his second lifetime trip to the winner’s circle. Coming from off the pace, Black Onyx rallied to win by 1 ¼ lengths, besting a field that included the stakes-placed and future graded stakes-placed Redwood Kitten, the future stakes winner Crop Report, and the graded stakes-placed Tesseron.

Making his graded stakes debut in the Spiral over the Polytrack surface at Turfway Park, Black Onyx raced mid-pack and on the outside throughout the race. Racing several paths off the rail down the backstretch, Black Onyx appeared prepared for a big rally as the field approached the far turn. The Kelly Breen trainee reached the front at the quarter pole and despite racing on the incorrect lead throughout the first portion of the homestretch, Black Onyx repelled any threats from other horses down the lane, winning by a comfortable 1 ½ lengths.

Black Onyx's pedigree

Rock Hard Ten, the sire of Black Onyx, was a versatile racehorse, winning over a range of seven to ten furlongs. Winner of the mile and one-quarter Santa Anita Handicap (GI), Rock Hard Ten was second in the 2004 Preakness Stakes (GI) behind Smarty Jones. A large percentage of Rock Hard Ten's progeny is made up of graded stakes performers, including those that have won at ten furlongs: Capital Plan, Nereid, and Utopian. Rock Hard Ten is a son of Kris S, who has proven to be a top stamina influence. Sire of numerous distance horses – such as Arch, Kicken Kris, Kissin Kris, Kudos, Prized, Roberto, Soaring Softly, Symboli Kris S, and Whitmore's Conn – Kris S has served as the grandsire - on either the top or bottom side of the pedigree - of Breeders' Cup Classic (GI, 10F) winners Blame and Zenyatta, as well as the additional distance horses Arravale, Delightful Kiss, and Pine Island. Rock Hard Ten’s dam is the group one-winning mare Tersa, who is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby victor and Belmont Stakes (GI) runner-up Gato Del Sol.

Black Onyx's dam, Kalahari Cat, earned $106,760 on the track, where she only won up to a mile. Her greatest success has certainly come as a broodmare, as – in addition to Black Onyx – she has produced the stakes-winning Francois and the graded stakes-placed Quality Council. Kalahari Cat is a daughter of Cape Town, who finished fifth in the 1998 Kentucky Derby, in which he was beaten by less than 4 lengths and made a slight late gain in the final stages. At stud, Cape Town sired the multiple grade one-winning champion Bird Town, as well as graded stakes winners Cape Hope and Capeside Lady. Although his progeny principally have principally encountered success at or below nine furlongs, he has produced the group one-winning Venezuelan, Dubai Queen, who won at 2,000 meters (approximately a mile and a quarter). Cape Town is a result of the mating between Seeking the Gold – a grade one winner at ten furlongs – and a daughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew named Seaside Attraction, who won the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and went on to be a spectacular broodmare, producing not only Cape Town, but also the multiple grade one-winning champion Golden Attraction and the group/graded stakes-winning horses Cape Canaveral and Red Carnival.

The granddam of Black Onyx is Desert Stormette, who produced the stakes-winning Desert Gold – who won up to nine furlongs. Desert Stormette is a daughter of the late, great sire Storm Cat, who produced many distance horses, including After Market, Bluegrass Cat, Cat Thief, Giant’s Causeway, Good Reward, Storm Flag Flying, and Tabasco Cat. Notably, Black Onyx’s third dam is a daughter of the great Damascus, won two legs of the Triple Crown (the Preakness and Belmont), as well as several other distance races, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Travers Stakes, and the Brooklyn Handicap. Damascus holds this same position in the pedigree of fellow Derby contender Orb. Black Onyx’s fourth dam – a daughter of Canadian Triple Crown winner New Providence – produced Canadian champion Sound Reason (who won the first leg of Canada’s Triple Crown, the ten-furlong Queen’s Plate Stakes).

Black Onyx could certainly enter the Derby as a rather unnoticeable candidate, but he is bred to be successful at classic distances and has shown talent from the beginning. He may run greenly at times and may have faced easier competition than many other contenders, but he is a gifted horse that should not be completely overlooked. 

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