01/19/2011 11:12AM

El Camino Real to be a real challenge for Positive Response

Marcel Langevin/Vassar Photography
Positive Response will run next in the El Camino Real on Feb. 12.

Julien Couton knows exactly what he is riding when he gets aboard Positive Response.

“He’s definitely the best 3-year-old at Golden Gate Fields,” said the French jockey after the Pomeroy gelding captured his third straight victory and second in a stakes in Saturday’s $100,000 California Derby.

Trainer Billy Morey won’t argue with that description, but he knows Positive Response will face a much stiffer test on Feb. 12 in the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby.

“I think it’s going to get tougher,” he said. “There may be some strong shippers.”

Morey and partners Saul Gevertz, Roger Newman and Ray Pagano purchased Positive Response for $75,000, plus some other charges, with this series of stakes in mind. Saturday’s victory means they are in the black with the gelding.

After winning a one-mile starter allowance in wire-to-wire style and then repeating that victory in the one-mile Gold Rush on Dec. 11, Positive Response showed improvement again as he defeated Jakesam by 2 3/4 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile California Derby.

Positive Response stalked a brisk pace in the California Derby. He made a quick move going into the second turn and was never threatened in the stretch.

“I’m so proud he proved he can come from off the pace,” Morey said after the race. “He made a major-league move at the three-eighths pole. He made a move into a hot pace and still finished.”

The ability to finish is important because the El Camino is at 1 1/8 miles.

Positive Response’s sire, Pomeroy, was a sprinter, winning both the Grade 1 King’s Bishop and Forego at seven furlongs. Positive Response’s stakes-placed dam, Lisa’s Approval, did win three routes in her 30-race career, but her only previous foal, R B Applause, scored both his victories in sprints.

Morey hasn’t seen anything that makes him think Positive Response can’t handle the added distance.

“He went strong to the wire [in the Derby],” said Morey, who added that Positive Response usually finishes strong in his works, too.

Morey says he’s geared Positive Response’s training to reflect the tougher competition and longer distances he’ll be facing.

“I started after the Gold Rush because I knew he’d have a tough campaign here with three tough races right in a row,” he said.

There is the MI Developments’s $5.5 million Preakness bonus available if a horse wins the El Camino, Santa Anita Derby and Preakness.

“It’s sort of been in the back of my mind,” Morey said. “If he wins the first leg, I might start thinking about that.”