09/03/2002 11:00PM

Detour takes Easy Grades to dirt

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DEL MAR, Calif. - For now, Easy Grades has found a home on the main track.

Following two runner-up finishes in Triple Crown preps and a 13th in the Kentucky Derby, Easy Grades was tried on turf but was beaten in two allowance races.

After he returned to win an allowance race over a mile on the main track on Aug. 19, Easy Grades earned a ticket to Friday's $75,000 El Cajon Sakes at Del Mar.

"I was hoping he'd do what he did because I wanted to go back to the dirt," trainer Ted West said. "He justified what I thought of him."

West and his son Ted H. West have shared the training duties on Easy Grades, who has developed from a $30,000 purchase at a 2-year-olds in-training sale to the winner of $283,120 for owner Scott Guenther's Desperado Stable.

Despite his accomplishments, Easy Grades has not won a stakes. During the Santa Anita meeting, he finished second to Came Home in the San Rafael Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

"He had two seconds to Came Home on dirt, and that's better than he did on the grass," West said.

West has big plans for Easy Grades this fall.

The El Cajon Stakes, run over 1 1/16 miles and restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $60,000 at a mile or over, could serve as a prep for Easy Grades to the $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 21 or the $400,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 5.

First, he must beat six others, including Joey Franco, who has won three consecutive starts, and Fonz's, who was third in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes behind Came Home at Hollywood Park on July 14.

Joey Franco may control the pace. Trained by David Hofmans, Joey Franco has won three of four starts, with his lone loss a third in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 28, his career debut.

Last winter, Joey Franco won a maiden race and an allowance race for California-breds, missed six months of racing because of an injury, and returned to win an allowance race over seven furlongs here on Aug. 24.

Fonz's won the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes last November but is winless in five starts this year, all in graded stakes. Trained by David

La Croix, he ran third in the Illinois Derby behind War Emblem last April and was twice beaten by Came Home at Hollywood Park.

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