Black Onyx hadn't made a single blip on the Triple Crown radar; in fact, as of Saturday morning, he wasn't even nominated. But by Saturday night, he not only had earned a nomination to the Triple Crown, but he also had secured a reservation for the Kentucky Derby. That's how suddenly everything can change on the roseate road.
But little changed in ESPN.com's Top 10 Derby Contenders. (Hear The Ghost and Vyjack swapped places, as did Oxbow and Will Take Charge.) Yes, Black Onyx joined the Triple Crown caravan with his victory Saturday in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway, but not the vanguard, or leaders. It was the second win in five starts for the improving son of Rock Hard Ten, and it encouraged his connections to make him a late nominee -- the deadline was Saturday -- at a cost of $6,000. With the 50 points he earned at Turfway, Black Onyx is virtually assured a place in the Churchill Downs starting gate for the Derby, and indeed that's where the colt will make his next start, according to his trainer, Kelly Breen. The Spiral also marked the return of Uncaptured. He hadn't raced since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last November, but he gave a strong performance Saturday, finishing second, 1½ lengths behind Black Onyx. His trainer, Mark Casse, said he was extremely pleased with the effort.
And on Sunday, in New Mexico, Govenor Charlie entered the picture by winning the Sunland Derby by five lengths in track-record time, 1:47.54 for the 1 1/8 miles. It was an outstanding effort by any measure, but perhaps not so spectacular as the time would suggest. The Sunland surface was as fast as a bobsled track. Two other track records were set Sunday (Midnight Lucky, for 1 1/16 miles; and Isn't He Clever for 6½ furlongs). A son of Midnight Lute and a grandson of the great Silverbulletday, Govenor Charlie stalked a lively pace, hit the front in the second turn and charged down the stretch to win for the second time in only three starts.
But now the tone becomes more serious and the points more precious. The points, in fact, double with the second leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship series, which begins Saturday with the Louisiana Derby, the UAE Derby and the Florida Derby. Four horses in ESPN.com's Top 10 will be in action, along with several more eager to join the leaders. Everything, in other words, could change Saturday.
The most exciting horse in the sport will use the Wood Memorial on April 6 at Aqueduct as his final preparatory race before traveling to Churchill Downs. Verrazano worked an easy half-mile Sunday at Palm Meadows in company with Discreet Dancer, winner of the recent Gulfstream Park Handicap. They completed the distance in 49.79 seconds, but Verrazano's gallop-out was "awesome," according to his trainer, Todd Pletcher. The big colt reportedly went out three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.40.
The long-striding, late-running colt will always be vulnerable to the pace. And pace could determine the outcome of Saturday's Florida Derby. When Orb won the Fountain of Youth, Majestic Hussar set the race up for him with an opening half-mile in 45.45 seconds. What will the pace be like at Gulfstream? With Merit Man in the field, the opening fractions could be lively, but probably more tepid than hot. Orb worked a half-mile in 48.30 seconds Monday at Payson Park in preparation for Saturday.
After Itsmyluckyday put in an easy half-mile Saturday at Calder (49.40 seconds), his trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., expressed his complete satisfaction with how Itsmyluckyday has approached his next outing. He hasn't raced since winning the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 26. Itsmyluckyday has natural speed, which he has learned to economize but which could enable him to get a perfect trip in the Florida Derby.
Who will show up Saturday in New Orleans, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? Trainer Todd Pletcher is hopeful the long stretch of the Fair Grounds will bring out the Dr. Jekyll in Revolutionary, and it could. But the Louisiana Derby is expected to attract a large field, which could invite Mr. Hyde to step forward. Also among those aimed at the Louisiana Derby are Code West, Palice Malice, Departing and Sunbean. Revolutionary worked a half-mile Sunday (48.20) in company with Overanalyze.
5. Shanghai Bobby
On Sunday at Palm Meadows, the champion juvenile of 2012 worked five-eighths of a mile (1:00.82) with stablemate Palace Malice. Shanghai Bobby hasn't raced since finishing second in the Holy Bull Stakes, where he set the pace, pushed by Clearly Now, before being caught in the stretch by Itsmyluckyday. Although the Florida Derby will be slightly farther, Shanghai Bobby could be more effective, his trainer said, with a "target" -- that is, he could be stalking rather than setting the pace Saturday.
Flashback turned in a bullet six-furlong move Monday morning -- 1:11.80. That workout suggests a tightening of the screws in preparation for the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. Flashback lost for the first time in his career in the San Felipe Stakes, where he rushed into a lively pace (45.95 seconds for the opening half-mile), making it even more contentious, then faltered in deep stretch, finishing second. He'll have a new rider, Garrett Gomez, in the Santa Anita Derby.
7. Hear The Ghost
One of the more intriguing horses on the road to Kentucky, Hear The Ghost won the San Felipe in only the third start of his career and his first around two turns. So it's impossible, especially since he's from the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, not to wonder how good he might become. Hear The Ghost worked three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.60 Sunday in preparation for the Santa Anita Derby.
Vyjack seems to get better with each passing week. Friday, in New York, he worked five-eighths of a mile with Head Heart Hoof, a 7-year-old graded stakes winner. Head Heart Hoof broke away from the pole about two lengths in front, but Vyjack caught his elder in the stretch and then eased ahead, stopping the clocker's watch at 59.07 seconds after a final quarter-mile in 22.84. Even more impressive, in the gallop-out, Vyjack left his workmate far behind. Vyjack will take on Verrazano in the Wood.
Although he finished second in the recent Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, he ran at least as well as his winning stablemate, Will Take Charge. Oxbow raced five-wide in the first turn, pressed the pace, advanced three-to-four wide in the second turn, put away favorite Super Ninety Nine in mid-stretch and then responded when challenged late. Consistent and reliable, Oxbow will make his next start April 13 in the Arkansas Derby, according to his Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
10. Will Take Charge
Does Will Take Charge remind you of anybody? Actually, at this point he's more accomplished, but like Charismatic in 1999, Will Take Charge appears to be improving significantly in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, and he seems to thrive on activity. And, of course, D. Wayne Lukas also trained Charismatic. After he won the Rebel, Will Take Charge galloped out strongly in company with Oxbow. Will Take Charge could make his next start in the Blue Grass on April 13, according to Lukas.
Also receiving votes: Normandy Invasion (20), Code West (15), Uncaptured (11), Super Ninety Nine (6), Rydilluc (5), War Academy
(5), Power Broker (4), Tiz the Truth (4), Titletown Five (3), Black Onyx (3), Palace Malice (3), Java's
War (3), Govenor Charlie (2), Goldencents (2)