10/24/2002 12:00AM

BC Countdown - Distaff: Lobo says praise my horse, not me


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Paulo Lobo pulled off what many consider to be the training feat of the year when he brought Farda Amiga off a three-month layoff to win the 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes this summer at Saratoga. It was a remarkable accomplishment, considering Farda Amiga also was coming off an illness, had a mere five workouts, and had to ship cross-country from California.

The race emboldened Lobo to use a similar strategy for Saturday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park. Knowing his 3-year-old filly runs well off a lengthy layoff, Lobo decided to sit tight this fall. When Farda Amiga runs Saturday, it will be only her second start since she gained national attention with her 20-1 upset in the Kentucky Oaks.

A victory would solidify Lobo's position as a rising star. But Lobo, a native of Brazil who has been training in this country for less than two years, is more interested in seeing the praise go to Farda Amiga. It is a rare horse whom a trainer would even consider handling in such a manner, and Lobo believes he has a special filly who is deserving of an Eclipse Award.

"A championship is very important for me, the owners, and principally for her," Lobo said in a recent interview at his barn at Hollywood Park. "She deserves this type of award."

Farda Amiga is a strong filly. Dark bay in color, with no white markings except for a touch on her right hind ankle, she is tall and powerfully built. She is bred for distance, being by Broad Brush out of a Pleasant Colony mare. She was purchased as a yearling for $45,000 by three Brazilians who knew Lobo when he was training there.

From the start, Farda Amiga has been campaigned in an unorthodox fashion. Each time, she and Lobo have covered themselves in glory. She made her first start at age 2 going two turns and on turf at Del Mar, and rallied for a 2 1/2-length victory, a precursor for the late-running style she has employed in every race. Her first race on dirt was the Santa Anita Oaks, in which she finished fourth, beaten only two lengths, convincing Lobo to try the Kentucky Oaks.

The Kentucky Oaks produced a raucous post-race winner's circle scene, with a Brazilian flag being unfurled and throaty cheers that caused winning jockey Chris McCarron to caution the celebrants that they were going to scare the filly. In horse-crazy Brazil, where the race was shown live on ESPN, national pride broke out.

"I received 35 calls on my cell phone 15 minutes after the race," Lobo said.

"It is the most important race for 3-year-old fillies in the world," Lobo said. "She ran super in the Santa Anita Oaks. We were very confident in the Kentucky Oaks, because of the long stretch at Churchill Downs. She comes from behind well. That is her style. We knew it was a tough race and she hadn't won a stakes at that time, but she was improving a lot, a lot, a lot."

Farda Amiga came down with an illness following the Oaks, and remained at Churchill Downs for three weeks. By the time Farda Amiga was ready to run again, Lobo's options were limited.

Ideally, Lobo wanted to race twice in California before going to the Breeders' Cup. But since there are no stakes races exclusively for 3-year-old fillies going two turns on the dirt at Del Mar, he had to adjust. Lobo decided to send Farda Amiga to the Alabama, and when she ran so well in that race, it convinced him not to run her again until the Breeders' Cup.

"Since the Alabama, she has been perfect," Lobo said. "She's doing very well, very well. She's very kind. She's a pet. She's not nervous. She's very intelligent. She loves to travel. Nothing bothers her."

Lobo, 33, comes from a racing family. His father, Selmar, rode for 23 years in Brazil before turning to training, at which he was a seven-time champion while based at the track in S?o Paulo. Lobo's grandfather was a trainer, and an uncle is a breeder and veterinarian. At 5-foot-2, with jet black hair and an engaging smile, Lobo looks as though he could have followed his father and started as a

jockey. "Too heavy," Lobo said, patting his stomach. "I weigh 136 pounds."

Instead, Lobo focused on training. After assisting his father, Lobo in 1997 received an invitation to assist trainer Richard Mandella in California for six months. Lobo lasted five days, suffering from a severe case of homesickness.

"But I always had this dream to train in the United States," Lobo said. Backed by owners Julio Camargo, Jose DeCamargo, and Marcos Simon - who purchased five yearlings, including Farda Amiga, at Kentucky sales in 2000 - Lobo and his wife, Carolina, returned in February 2001, this time for good. They live in Pasadena, Calif. Lobo now has 17 horses at Hollywood Park, 16 of which are owned by Brazilian interests.

There has been plenty of adjustment, both personal and professional. When he first arrived here, Lobo knew only a handful of people in California - such as trainers A.C. Avila and Jose DeLima, and jockey Goncalino Almeida - and he is still a little uncomfortable with his English. "Sorry about my English," he said at one point during an interview, though it is better than he realizes. Lobo also speaks his native Portuguese and Spanish.

As for work, "Training is totally different from Brazil," Lobo said.

"Here the works are harder and shorter," he said. "In Brazil, works are for the stamina of the horse. The stretch in Brazil is three furlongs, like Europe. If you move on the turn, you lose. You have to wait, then move. The pace is slower, and you finish stronger. Here, it is the opposite."

He has had to adapt. But as Lobo is proving, he is a quick study.