Trainer William E. Morey says he can't see sending California Derby winner Positive Response with heavily favored Comma to the Top in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Feb. 12 at Golden Gate Fields, even though his 3-year-old has shown quickness in the past.
"We don't want to go with (Comma to the Top) unless he really backs it down," said Morey, the son of longtime Northern California conditioner William J. Morey Jr., during a press conference to announce the post position draw Feb. 9. "Comma to the Top may go wire to wire, he's that good, but our best chance is to catch him late."
Morey will be gambling that grade I winner Comma to the Top, breaking from the rail in his first start in nearly two months, may not be ready to go the 1 1/8-mile distance in his 3-year-old debut over Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface. But Morey concedes that the son of Bwana Charlie has already handled more than his sprint pedigree would suggest in easily winning Hollywood Park's CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 18, as well as two other stakes routes.
As a contingency, Comma to the Top was cross-entered in Santa Anita's Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II), where he is the 123-pound high weight. Trainer Peter Miller said he plans to run his gelding in the El Camino Real, however.
Purchased late last year, Positive Response is on a three-race win streak at Golden Gate since Morey stretched him out to two turns following a fourth-place finish in a six-furlong sprint last October.
"We were disappointed in his sprint race, but he ran like a horse that would go a mile," Morey said. "We've been very happy with him ever since."
Positive Response went gate-to-wire in a starter allowance a month later and returned Dec. 11 with a six-length triumph in the Gold Rush Stakes, also in front-running fashion. In the Jan. 15 California Derby, however, the gelded son of Pomeroy was stuck with the 11 post in a 12-horse field and showed his ability to rate. He seized the lead on the far turn after rallying from fifth early for jockey Julien Couton on his way to posting an impressive 2 3/4-length win.
If Positive Response, who is 7-2 on the morning line, can do it again, he would provide the 36-year-old Morey the biggest win of his 11-year training career. The Florida-bred bay gelding, out of the Farma Way mare Lisa's Approval, is owned by Morey, Saul Gevertz, Roger Newman, and Ray Pagano.
"He's the most exciting young horse I've ever had," Morey said. "To have a 3-year-old with this kind of ability is really exciting, to say the least."
To be ridden by Couton once again, Positive Response drew post 5 for the El Camino Real Derby, which drew a good field of seven. The race is part of the "Preakness 5.5" bonus program that promises a $5.5 million payoff from parent company MI Developments if a horse can win the El Camino Real, the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 9, and Pimlico's Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 21, all MID tracks.
"This race is very important to me and to him (Positive Response)," said the 29-year-old Frenchman Couton. "He's showed a lot of potential. I think he's a natural. Since the Cal Derby he has picked up a lot of muscle. He's got enough speed to be in the right position at the right time of the race."
Positive Response began his career with trainer Kelly Callaghan at Woodbine, breaking his maiden in his second start at the $50,000 claiming level. He has won four of six starts and earned $139,681.
Comma to the Top, trained by Miller for owners Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, and Kevin Tsujihara, is the 6-5 morning line choice in his return to Golden Gate Fields, where he began his current five-race winning streak with a pair of allowance victories last fall. Since then, Comma to the Top has reeled off front-running victories in a pair of stakes, the Real Quiet on Cushion Track and the Generous (gr. IIIT), and he came from second to capture the CashCall Futurity by 1 3/4 lengths.
Corey Nakatani, who has been aboard Comma to the Top for the past three races, has the return call.
Comma to the Top, purchased by Miller for $22,000 as a 2-year-old, was recently weighted at 121 pounds in the 2010 Experimental Free Handicap by The Jockey Club following a season in which he won six of 10 starts and earned $551,600.
The 5-2 morning line second choice is Silver Medallion, shipping from Southern California for trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Michael Ryan. Russell Baze is aboard the winner of Santa Anita's Eddie Logan Stakes on turf Dec. 31.
The Badge of Silver colt finished seventh in Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) in his only prior start on a synthetic track Oct. 9. The $150,000 yearling purchase's other four starts have been on grass, resulting in two wins and a second. He would be the first horse to race at Golden Gate for the former Eclipse Award winner Asmussen.
Jakesam (8-1), a son of Smoke Glacken trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, and Bluegrass Reward (15-1), a Good Reward gelding from the Steve Miyadi stable, were second in third, respectively, in the California Derby.
Anthony's Cross (10-1), also entered in Santa Anita's Lewis Stakes, is to be ridden by Aaron Gryder if he starts in the El Camino Real. A D K Racing's son of Indian Charlie, a $300,000 yearling, broke his maiden at Churchill Downs Nov. 4 and ran third in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) in his only try this year.
Formula Gold, trained by Lloyd Mason for his son Brett, steps way up after a maiden win Jan. 22.
$200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III, Race 8, 4:15 p.m.), 3-Year-olds, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Comma to the Top (FL), C S Nakatani, P Miller
2. Bluegrass Reward (CA), J J Hernandez, S Miyadi
3. Formula Gold (CA), H R Romero, L C Mason
4. Silver Medallion (KY), R A Baze, S M Asmussen
5. Positive Response (FL), J Couton, W E Morey
6. Anthony's Cross (PA), A T Gryder, E G Harty
7. Jakesam (KY), F T Alvarado, J Hollendorfer
All carry 121 pounds.
Blinkers On: Anthony's Cross