Just a couple of hours before their unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Nyquist was expected to receive an Eclipse Award, Reddam Racing and trainer Doug O’Neill got the party started early at Golden Gate Fields – courtesy of Frank Conversation in the $100,105 California Derby.

The 5-2 chance got a textbook set-up, drafting in third behind dueling leaders Algenon and 8-5 favorite Allaboutaction through splits of :24.04, :47.95 and 1:12.23 on the Tapeta. Traveling sweetly for jockey Mario Gutierrez, Frank Conversation mowed them down in the stretch and drew off by 2 1/2 lengths. The Quality Road colt covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.37 to register his first stakes score.

Marqula closed for second, with Algenon besting the disappointing Allaboutaction for third. While Allaboutaction had a tough trip vying throughout, he’s been readily dismissed in both of his stakes attempts, and the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee has questions to answer now.

Frank Conversation’s prior stakes credit was a third in the November 29 Cecil B. DeMille (G3) on the Del Mar turf. He’s the second stakes winner to emerge from that race, after runner-up Collected came back to take the Sham (G3). Frank Conversation was rebounding from a fifth in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). Instead of seeing this result as flattering Los Al hero Mor Spirit, it’s likelier that Frank Conversation is simply better suited to turf and synthetic at this point.

Although the California Derby doesn’t offer any points toward the Kentucky Derby (G1), it is a prep for Golden Gate Fields’ signature race for 3-year-olds, the February 13 El Camino Real Derby (G3), which is part of the Derby scoring system. Frank Conversation has now stamped himself as a top contender for the El Camino Real, where a total of 17 points are up for grabs.

Photo courtesy of Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography.