03/22/2011 3:06PM

Spiral Stakes a must win for Positive Response's Kentucky Derby hopes

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Positive Response, winner of the Battaglia Memorial, will look to earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby with a win in Saturday's Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

Billy Morey amassed more than 1,000 wins in less than a decade during a remarkably swift rise among the ranks of North American trainers. Based in Northern California, Morey ventured out of town for one of his more notable victories a few weeks ago, and on Saturday, he will try for his greatest yet when sending out Positive Response in the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Positive Response, fresh from a seven-length, front-running romp in the March 5 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway, is one of the likely favorites in the Vinery Spiral, the track’s annual showcase event set for its 40th running Saturday. The 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race sports a Grade 3 ranking and $500,000 purse, which virtually assures the winner a spot in the starting gate for the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Positive Response has won three stakes, but none of them were graded, meaning that to make the Derby “obviously we’re almost in a must-win situation,” Morey said. “But we’re just going to wait and see if we get lucky. Then we’ll have that option to consider.”

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Into this week, Morey, 36, had 1,045 wins from 4,198 starters, the vast majority of them on the Northern California circuit, during a career that began in 2001. Before going out on his own, Morey spent eight years as an assistant to his father, William J. Morey Jr., who remains active. One of the major career feats for the younger Morey was to finish ahead of local kingpin Jerry Hollendorfer at one of the main meets on the circuit, having done so at Golden Gate in 2008.

Positive Response, a bay gelding by the young sire Pomeroy, has raced exclusively on synthetics, having won 5 of his 8 previous starts. Morey noted that, if Positive Response were to win Saturday and move forward to the Derby, “I don’t have any reason to think he wouldn’t” be able to handle dirt. “Obviously, there’s going to be a time when we’re going to have to try it.”

Only one horse has swept the Battaglia and the Spiral, and that was Concerto in 1997, although the eventual multi-millionaire Perfect Drift ran second in the Battaglia before winning the Spiral in 2002.

Positive Response will be ridden again by Julien Couton, a Northern California regular who is one of about a dozen out-of-town jockeys scheduled to ride Saturday at Turfway. In fact, of the 12 horses likely to start, only three are to be ridden by Turfway regulars. Other known assignments include Javier Castellano on King Congie, Gabriel Saez on Glint, Alan Garcia on Animal Kingdom, Junior Alvarado on Preachintothedevil, and Jose Valdivia Jr. on Rescind the Trade.

All Saturday entries were to be drawn Wednesday, with a cocktail reception for Spiral horsemen being held that evening in the VIP tent on the track apron. There will not be an also-eligibles list for the Spiral, with 12 runners being the limit.

The Spiral is one of five stakes set for the Saturday program, which will be run during daytime hours. TVG will provide onsite coverage throughout the day. In those undercard events:

◗ Ten 3-year-old fillies, if not more, are pointing to the Grade 3, $125,000 Bourbonette Oaks at a mile. Harlan’s Ruby, Lilacs and Lace, Summer Soiree, and Marion Ravenwood are the top names.

◗ At least eight 3-year-olds, several that didn’t make the Spiral cut, are likely for the $100,000 Rushaway at 1 1/16 miles. The Ole Gen, Crimson China, Swift Warrior, and Disfraz look like the main contenders.

◗ Todd Pletcher stands to dominate the $50,000 Queen, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares, with the uncoupled duo of Happy Week and Midst. At least seven were expected.

◗ Nearly a full gate of 3-year-old sprinters is expected for the $50,000 Hansel, led by J J’s Lucky Train, Philippe, Getaway Guy, and Inhisglory.