02/13/2016 9:54PM

Frank Conversation overcomes post 12 in El Camino Real Derby

Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography
Frank Conversation, with Mario Gutierrez aboard, is likely headed to the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park after winning the El Camino Real Derby.

ALBANY, Calif. -- When trainer Doug O'Neill saw that Frank Conversation  had drawn post 12 in a 14-horse field for Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, he had an immediate concern.

"I thought there was a chance we'd be caught a zillion wide," he said of the run to the first turn for the 1 1/8-mile race. "Mario [Gutierrez] did a very good job of getting him into position, so he was just four wide."

Things went smoothly the rest of the way for the favored Frank Conversation, who sat in a favorable stalking spot behind longshots Kelly With a Twist and Touched by Autism, who was sitting second behind fractions of 23.73 and 48.37 seconds, brisk figures for the main track at Golden Gate.

"It was a perfect trip," said Gutierrez. "It was a lot of horses, so I wouldn't say we were worried, but we definitely wanted to get perfect position right away coming out of the gate. It worked really good for us. The horses went to the lead, and I was able to just lay down behind the speed like last time [in winning the California Derby]. It was the same kind of trip." 

Frank Conversation ($5.20) settled nicely in sixth and was three wide on the second turn when Gutierrez finally asked him to move. He responded nicely, sweeping past the tiring leaders. as Tusk and Kasseopia sat behind him and had their sights on him.

Tusk, who was second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Frank Conversation, in the stretch, cut the margin in half, losing the race by three-quarters of a length. Kasseopia was third, another 2 1/4 lengths back with San Dimas, who was supplemented to the race, finishing fourth. 

The winning time was 1:50.64. One race earlier, older allowance horses ran the same distance in 1:51.40.

As the Graham Motion-trained duo of Tusk and Kasseopia tried to catch Frank Conversation in the stretch, Gutierrez was asked if he were concerned about them, and he replied, "Not at all."

Jockey Juan Hernandez said Tusk changed leads late.

"When he changed leads, I thought he was going to pass the other horse, but he just stayed."

Jockey Drayden Van Dyke said that the British-bred Kasseopia, who broke slowly, had him positioned nicely behind the winner and went wide on the second turn, "but other than that, he ran good." 

The victory was worth $120,000 and 10 points for the Kentucky Derby for Frank Conversation, a Quality Road colt who cost owner Paul Reddam $120,000 at the March 2015 Ocala sale.

Reddam, who comes up with catchy names for his runners, said the name came up when he was having a group conversation about his horses. "I said let's have a frank conversation about our horses, and that became the name."

O'Neill said with the Quality Road breeding with the Unusual Heat mare Rushen Heat, he expected Frank Conversation to be hot-blooded, but said, "Amazingly, he's real level-headed.

"He showed ability early, but when we stretched him out, he began to show in the p.m. what we saw in the a.m."

O'Neill, who also trains undefeated Eclipse Award winner Nyquist, said his two stars have never worked together.

"They're so professional, that they do everything we ask working alone."

With the Unusual Heat breeding, O'Neill is not surprised that Frank Conversation flourished on the turf and has gone 2 for 2 on Golden Gate's Tapeta surface. 

He said the Spiral Stakes on Turfway's synthetic surface on April 2 would likely be Frank Conversation's next start.      

But he says, "Watching him train on dirt, it looks like he's not only a synthetic and turf horse."

Gutierrez says distance shouldn't be a problem either.

"He'll definitely stretch out because the competition was a little bit harder today, but he definitely kicked on and he never hesitated to keep pushing until the wire."