Frank Conversation favored in El Camino Real Derby

One day at the racetrack, horse owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill got into a pointed discussion. They don’t remember the topic, but another memorable horse name was coined: Frank Conversation.

That 3-year-old colt will be the favorite in Saturday’s $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, with an eye at much bigger races.

“That’s Paul; he’s always coming up with something,” said Leandro Mora, O’Neill’s assistant trainer. “Some funny phrase will stick in his head, like I’ll Have Another. People think that’s about (drinks), but actually he was talking about cookies.”

I’ll Have Another won the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Frank Conversation, winner of last month’s California Derby, has the same people, including jockey Mario Gutierrez.

“He’s going up the ladder,” said Mora, who accompanied Frank Conversation to Golden Gate from Team O’Neill’s base at Santa Anita. “When you have this type of horse, you like to dream.”

The first three finishers in the 1 1/8 -mile race earn points toward a possible start in the Kentucky Derby.

“His pedigree screams distance,” O’Neill said of Frank Conversation, a son of Quality Road. “We have to keep the dream alive if he does well on Saturday and comes out of the race in good shape.”

With Derby points on the line, the El Camino Real drew a capacity field of 14, with entries also coming from Canada, Ireland, Florida and Maryland. The owners list includes Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing of Dubai and Flaxman Holdings, a longtime European racing powerhouse.

Sacramento’s Steve Beneto has a starter, too, Mr. Coker, bought for $300,000 in Kentucky. Mr. Coker is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who has won the El Camino Real six times.

A sentimental favorite will be Touched by Autism. Owned by Johnny Taboada and trained by Marcia Stortz, the colt evokes memories of Taboada’s Autism Awareness, who won the 2008 El Camino Real at 62-1. Taboada’s son Renzo has autism and the owner hopes his horses will help raise awareness about the disorder.

“This race feels like déjà vu, hopefully,” Taboada said. “Sometimes, it’s good to be an underdog.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

El Camino Real Derby

  • What: First major prep race for 2016 Kentucky Derby
  • When: Saturday, approximately 3:45 p.m.
  • Where: Golden Gate Fields
  • TV: TVG, 3 p.m.