02/14/2016 2:48PM

Road to the Derby: El Camino Real Derby

Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography
Frank Conversation earned an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the El Camino Real Derby.

Grade 3, $200,800 El Camino Real Derby, 1 1/8 miles (Tapeta), Golden Gate Fields, Feb. 13, 2016

 (10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

 Winner: Frank Conversation, by Quality Road

 Trainer: Doug O’Neill

 Jockey: Mario Gutierrez

 Owner: Reddam Racing LLC

 Beyer Speed Figure: 86

 FRANK CONVERSATION followed up his victory in last month’s California Derby with another stakes win at Golden Gate, only this one was far more significant, as he handled 1 1/8 miles and picked up all-important points toward a potential Kentucky Derby berth.

 It’s hard to know what to make of these races that are run on synthetic courses, especially with a horse like Frank Conversation, who is 2 for 2 on synthetics, has a win and a third in two grass starts, but finished well back in both his tries on dirt, including a fifth-place finish in the Los Alamitos Futurity. In the Los Alamitos Futurity, he was put away by Toews On Ice after a pace duel, and Toews On Ice came back to flop in the Smarty Jones, so that’s not a good look.

In his defense, Frank Conversation seems far better when he settles just off the pace and then finishes, so his early pace battle in the Los Alamitos Futurity was probably not conducive to his best effort. Still, considering that his dam is by Unusual Heat, whose offspring excel on synthetics, at this point in time I’ll take the position that he’s a synthetic horse, and wait for him to prove otherwise the next time he runs on dirt, which potentially might not be until May 7, as the obvious next move with him would be to remain on synthetics for the Spiral at Turfway on April 2.

His connections also have Eclipse Award winner Nyquist on the Derby trail.

 In the El Camino Real Derby, Frank Conversation broke well from an outside post and took up a stalking position about three paths wide, behind the leaders, around the first turn. He remained wide and in the clear down the backstretch and into the far turn, at which point he advanced quickly toward the leaders to take the lead just before the top of the stretch. He continued that extended run all the way to the wire, staving off all challengers.

 TUSK, who finished second, bobbled a bit leaving the gate, knifed between horses and was able to race mid-pack in the two path around the first turn while just inside Frank Conversation, had to wait for room while in traffic with three furlongs to go but then was able to find a seam and followed Frank Conversation for much of the far turn, angled out to the four path for the stretch run, did not swap over to his proper lead until the sixteenth pole, had every chance to get by the winner but was second-best. He is not an early nominee to the Triple Crown.

 KASSEOPIA, who was third, stood flat-footed when the gate opened and was away slowly, was taken four paths wide around the first turn while racing near the rear of the pack, stayed wide and in the clear to the far turn, rallied about five paths wide on the far turn and was pretty much even with Tusk a quarter-mile out, did not swap over to his correct lead until mid-stretch, was no match for the top two but outfinished everyone else. This was a good effort for his first start in more than four months, but he has yet to race on dirt.

 SAN DIMAS, who was fourth, got a gorgeous spot into the first turn, just behind the leaders while hugging the rail. He stayed there through the far turn, angled out to the three path for the stretch run to go around the tiring KELLY WITH A TWIST, was also late to swap leads, and finished evenly. Like Tusk, he is not an early nominee to the Triple Crown.


DIPLODOCUS, who was fifth, was shuffled back while outrun through the stretch the first time and settled near the back of the pack toward the rail around the first turn. He tried to follow Tusk heading into the far turn but had to check and lost position, was then angled quite wide to follow Kasseopia into the lane about five paths wide and kept to his task in a better-than-looked effort.

 ALGENON, who was sixth, stalked the pace while three-to-four paths wide around the first turn, moved to challenge for the lead from the three path on the far turn, briefly took the lead a quarter-mile out, was immediately tackled by Frank Conversation, and then tired through the lane. A cut back to a mile will benefit him.

MANA STRIKE, who was seventh, broke as poorly as Kasseopia and was away well behind the field, trailed the field while being kept off the rail into the first turn, stayed outside runners and was widest of all on the far turn, came into the stretch in about the seven path and passed tired rivals.

MARQULA, who was eighth, broke sharply and then settled just behind the leaders while two paths off the rail into the first turn, raced on the flank of San Dimas down the backstretch, began to lose ground with three furlongs to go, had to check sharply in traffic, bravely tried to re-rally in upper stretch but was outrun thereafter.

OSCAR DOMINGUEZ, who finished ninth, raced in the second half of the field while saving ground around the first turn, was just inside Tusk down the backstretch and into the far turn, was able to remain on the rail through the turn and actually got to a striking position heading into the lane but could not keep pace while failing to change leads, wasting a really clever ride by Julien Couton.

Kelly With a Twist, who was 10th, showed good speed from his rail draw to secure the lead in the opening furlong, ran along on the front end on a free rein to the far turn, was challenged by Algenon midway on the turn, had nothing left to give and steadily faded through the stretch.

TOUCHED BY AUTISM, who was 11th, broke best of all, allowed Kelly With a Twist to lead, stayed just behind and outside that rival down the backstretch while second, was asked aggressively beginning 3 1/2 furlongs out when Algenon advanced outside him, then backed out of it nearing the quarter pole.

 GIOPRESS, who was 12th, was unable to get over from his outside stall through the lane the first time and went into the clubhouse turn about four-to-five paths wide, remained very wide down the backstretch and into the far turn, was unable to keep up with Tusk to his inside and Kasseopia to his outside on the far turn, did not change leads in upper stretch and yielded.

GO LONG, who finished last of 13, raced three paths wide into the first turn while toward the rear of the pack, was even with Kasseopia and Diplodocus while well back down the backstretch, was out-quickened by those rivals beginning with three furlongs remaining and never offered a rally.