Hierro rallied four wide in the stretch to run down favored Paynter to win 88th running of the Grade III The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial by 1 1/2 length.
A crowd of 26,527 attending on the Churchill Downs Opening Night presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka.
Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Hierro ran the mile on a track rated sloppy in 1:35.27. Rain and a hail storm hit the track midway through the card, and there was a long delay in the paddock while Nonios attempted to re-shoe him. He was eventually scratched.
It was the second Derby Trial win for Asmussen, who saddled Valid Expectations to victory in 1996, and for Leparoux, who won the 2008 race on Macho Again.
The Black led the field of eight through fractions of :22.73 and :45.28 down the backstretch straightaway with Saint of Saints in closest pursuit and Paynter in third. Midway on the far turn, Martin Garcia sent Paynter after The Black and took command entering the stretch, with Stealcase also moving toward the front.
As the leading trio fanned across the track, Leparoux had Hierro in the clear and moved to the lead at the eighth pole to secure his second victory in six starts. Both victories have come at Churchill Downs and under Leparoux.
A 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Hard Spun out of the Navarone mare Brief Bliss, Hierro earned $139,886 for the victory to increase his bankroll to $186,966.
Hierro returned $12, $4.60 and $3.20. Paynter paid $3.60 and $3.00 with Stealcase finishing third under Shaun Bridgmohan and paying $5.00 to show.
Bourbon Courage finished fourth and was followed in order by The Black, Motor City, Quick Wit and Saint of Saints.
Hierro was awarded earnings of $139,886, Paynter $45,124, Stealcase $22,562, Bourbon Courage $11,281, The Black $6,769, and the remaining finishers $2,326 each.
Steve Asmussen, trainer of Hierro: "This is a horse whose last two races have been very eventful. This evening with the weather earlier and then the delay in the paddock, I loved how he acted. I thought he kept his composure. I thought Julien gave him a dream trip tonight, and he ran extremely well against a quality field.
"After the rain, we watched the next couple of races and felt they went over the track well and everyone was handling it good and that it was safe to run on.
"We were looking for this race from him. He had shown talent all along. The horse has developed a lot physically and I think he beat a quality field tonight. It's what we were hoping for and hopefully there are bigger things to come.
"(The Preakness has) obviously been brought up several times in the last five minutes. We will evaluate how he comes out of it, how he acts, but we're very pleased with this win tonight."
Julien Leparoux, rider on Hierro: “I got a really good trip. He broke good. I angled him on the turn and he finished strong for me. He was really impressive when he broke his maiden here. We thought he was going to be a Derby horse. He’s a nice horse. We knew that a long time ago.”
Martin Garcia, rider on Paynter: “It was a good trip. My horse needed a race. He ran a good race. He got beat by a really nice horse and I think he’ll be ready for next time. He bobbled a bit, but he wasn’t 100 percent. I don’t know if he was 100 percent it would be different.”
Mark Casse, trainer of Stealcase: "This horse has been an underachiever. We actually thought at one time that he was our best 3-year-old. It was nice, he stepped his game up a little today."