03/14/2011 3:00PM

2011 Kentucky Derby: Under the Radar - Positive Response

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Positive Response will try to back up his Battaglia Memorial win in the Vinery Spiral.

Positive Response has won five of eight, and he took the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes by seven lengths in his most recent start.

Yet, the Pomeroy gelding hasn’t elicited much of a positive response in the media. He is infrequently mentioned among even the secondary Kentucky Derby prospects. Perhaps it’s because he’s a gelding (remember Funny Cide). Perhaps it’s because his stallion, Pomeroy, was mostly a sprinter (Pomeroy’s sire, Boundary, gave us Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner). Perhaps it’s because he was a maiden claimer in Canada during the early portion of his career (as was Mine That Bird).

Whatever the reason, Positive Response is under the radar.

It’s true that Pomeroy was a precocious sprinter. He won his first two starts as a juvenile by a combined 17 1/2 lengths and landed the prestigious Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga the following season with a 108 Beyer Speed Figure. At 4, Pomeroy confirmed his fondness for the Spa by notching the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap by four lengths with a career-high 114 Beyer. The next year, he grabbed the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at, you guessed it, Saratoga, this time with a 107 figure.

Pedigree analysts will point to Pomeroy’s sprint record (he won at distances ranging from five to seven furlongs and was winless from four starts at a mile or more) as a negative mark when assessing his chances of siring a classic winner. They also will note that his top progeny, Pomeroys Pistol (Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes) and Flashpoint (Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes), achieved their successes at sprint distances.

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But, realistically, it is too early to truly gauge Pomeroy’s capabilities as a stallion. Half of the stakes winners from his first crop (Positive Response and California Derby hero Golden Springs) earned their stripes at 1 1/16 miles.

Perhaps, Positive Response will get stamina from the female half of his pedigree. His dam, Lisa’s Approval (by Santa Anita Handicap winner, Farma Way), finished a well-beaten third in the $30,000 Jiffy Lube Stakes going 1 1/16 miles at Sam Houston, but she was a multiple winner around two turns. Her half-brother Full In ran third in the $100,000 Appleton Juvenile Turf around 1 1/16 miles on grass at Calder. Full In also was a winner at nine furlongs.

Positive Response was foaled in Florida on Feb. 28, 2008, and is a veteran of the auction ring. He sold for $15,000 as a short yearling at Keeneland January, went for $35,000 later in 2009 at the Keeneland September auction, and was purchased for $21,000 last year at OBS June.

Sent to trainer Kelly Callaghan, Positive Response made his career debut on Sept. 10, 2010, in a $40,000 maiden claimer going six furlongs over the Woodbine Polytrack. He was dismissed at 26-1 odds but finished a close third in a race that produced four next-out winners.

One of them was Positive Response, who wheeled back two weeks later in a $50,000 maiden seller at seven furlongs. Sent up to press the pace while three wide and in between runners, Positive Response emerged from a five-horse scrum in upper stretch to prevail by two lengths in 1:23.90, good enough for a 77 Beyer.

Following his maiden win, Positive Response was purchased privately and delivered to trainer Bill Morey in Northern California. After finishing fourth in a $40,000 starter allowance at six furlongs over Golden Gate’s Tapeta surface, Morey stretched Positive Response around two turns for a similar conditioned race at one mile on Nov. 10. Here, Positive Response took no prisoners. He cleared to an easy lead and the rail going into the first turn and had the favorite, Game Event, under a ride on the final bend. Positive Response was a bit late to make his final lead change, but he always had enough to hold Game Event at bay.

Morey showed confidence in Positive Response by next placing the gelding in the $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes at a mile on Dec. 11. Positive Response repaid the faith handsomely. He stole the race in broad daylight, skimming on a loose lead through moderate fractions before scooting home his final quarter-mile in 23.86 seconds to win by six lengths. Once again, he was just a tad late with his final lead change but he was never threatened in the final furlong.

Positive Response made his 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 California Derby at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 15. Saddled with post 11 in the 12-horse stakes, Positive Response was asked to rate off the pace and passed that test with flying colors. He tracked the leaders while three wide before bursting to the front early on the far turn. As is his custom, it took him some time to make his final lead switch, but he won with a minimum of fuss as the 7-5 favorite.

Positive Response finished third in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at nine furlongs on Feb. 12 but received a career-high 91 Beyer for his effort.

Morey then shipped the gelding to Kentucky for the Battaglia. Made the 2-1 favorite at post time, Positive Response made the lead under Julien Couton and widened his lead in upper stretch. His lead changes were smoother this time around, and Positive Response was taken in hand during the final 100 yards.

While Positive Response has never raced on dirt, it should be mentioned that many horses (I Want Revenge, Lookin At Lucky, just to name two) successfully transitioned their form from synthetic surfaces. The main questions surrounding Positive Response are added distance, and the fact that he has enjoyed relatively easy trips in many of his victories. At some point, he will likely have to overcome adversity, and it will be interesting to see if he is up to that challenge. We should find out more in the Grade 3 Vinery Spiral Stakes at Turfway on March 26. If he performs well in that race, the Kentucky Derby is a possibility for a horse that would be labeled as a rags-to-riches story.