02/28/2012 1:47PM

Golden Gate: Positive Response returning for Morey

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Positive Response, with Julien Couton riding, wins the 2011 California Derby.

ALBANY, Calif. – Trainer Billy Morey is looking forward to Thursday’s seventh race at Golden Gate Fields, a one-mile allowance that will see the comeback of Positive Response, Northern California’s top 3-year-old on the Kentucky Derby trail last year.

Positive Response has not raced since setting the pace and finishing eighth as the favorite in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes last March 26 at Turfway Park in Kentucky.

“Finally,” said Morey about the comeback.

The race is not an easy spot for Positive Response. Signed up against him are Northern Causeway, a multiple stakes winner as a 3-year-old last year, including the Grade 3 British Columbia Derby; multiple graded stakes winner Autism Awareness, who won the El Camino Real Derby in 2008; Skipshot, winner of the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes in 2010 and third in the Grade 3 San Pasqual this year; multiple stakes-placed Live Sundays; and Dunmore East, third in the Grade 3 All America last November and winner over millionaire Bold Chieftain in his 2012 debut.

Positive Response was a private purchase in the fall of 2010 by Morey, Saul Gevertz, Roger Newman, and Ray Pagano after graduating for a $50,000 claiming price at Woodbine. Morey said the group bought him because of the series of late-fall and early-winter races for young horses at Golden Gate Fields.

After running fourth in a starter allowance sprint in his Golden Gate Fields debut, Positive Response won a one-mile starter allowance race, and then won the Gold Rush Stakes and California Derby before finishing third behind Silver Medallion in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.

Three weeks later he won the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at 1 1/16 miles at Turfway before setting a 46.56 half-mile fraction and leading the Spiral before fading to eighth behind eventual Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

Seven races, five of them stakes, in five months took their toll on Positive Response. Morey thought he might be able to freshen Positive Response and bring him back in the Alcatraz last May 14, but he didn’t even work his star until May 30. While a 36.40-second three-furlong work would seem a good starting point for a summer campaign, Morey didn’t like what he saw and sent the gelding to Legacy Ranch for a true freshener.

“He was just really tired,” said Morey, who said the horse suffered no injury. “We tried him a little bit, but he wasn’t putting a lot into training. That’s why we turned him out a little longer. It all worked out well. We’re happy he’s back.”

Morey says the decision about how to freshen a horse “depends on the individual situation.

“If it’s a horse with an injury or one where you want to have him add weight, you want to keep on top of it.

“With him, we just wanted to let him unwind physically and mentally.”

Morey says that Positive Response's training includes 10 works beginning last Dec. 11. His final prep was a 1:00.80 five-furlong work that was the sixth-fastest of 96 recorded on Sunday.

“Last year, we had a fit horse we were trying to improve,” he said. “This year, it’s a little different.”

Morey has been concerned with building up his 4-year-old runner’s fitness. His first three works in February were all six furlongs with one, a 1:13.80, earning a bullet on Feb. 5.

“It’s hard to know what to expect,” said Morey. “He’s had just about a year off, and he’ll be going a mile against horses that have run well in stakes.”

Unlikely longshot

What was the biggest story of Golden Gate Fields’ abbreviated three-day week last weekend?

Russell Baze scoring four wins on Saturday? Nah!

Frank Alvarado having a perfect 5-for-5 day on Friday, including three wins for his No. 1 trainer, Steve Specht, and three wins with double-digit payoffs. Nope.

The biggest involved Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has won 39 championships at Golden Gate Fields and won three races Saturday.

Hollendorfer and Baze teamed up to win the fifth race with the aptly named Big Girl ($3.60) in the fifth and My Gal Candy ($4.80) in the ninth. Pretty routine stuff for them.

In the eighth race, Hollendorfer-trained Cody Peak, ridden by Julien Couton, had his head down at the wire to edge Baze and Bailouttheminister by the narrowest of noses.

The big story? Cody Peak paid $87 for the win, $28.40 to place, and $9.20 to show.