12/03/2004 1:00AM

Cajun Beat shows shades of Farma Way


PHOENIX - Back in early 1991, a horse named Farma Way was considered little more than a nice sprinter for D. Wayne Lukas. A son of classy stayer Marfa, Farma Way had hinted at significant ability a couple of years earlier at age 2, when he finished second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity behind monstrous winner Grand Canyon. Farma Way's 3-year-old season, however, was basically a disaster.

But when Lukas brought him back for the Santa Anita meet in 1991, things got off to a rocking start. He romped in an allowance sprint, then again in the Grade 2 San Carlos. His sustained speed, pedigree, and earlier promise got Lukas thinking. Next up was a run in the Grade 2 San Pasqual at 1 1/16 miles. It was a rousing success, and Lukas had taken a sprinter and turned him into a top-class middle-distance horse. Farma Way's 1991 season would continue to be huge. He would go on to win the Grade 2 San Antonio and Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, and was named Santa Anita's horse of the meet. He then won the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. He went on to finish second in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Iselin Handicap, and Woodward, all Grade 1's. Lukas's gamble paid off to the tune of over $2.8 million earned, a near-championship, and a horse we now look back on as a very good middle-distance horse, not a mere sprinter.

So could we be in store for the same sort of thing from Bobby Frankel with Cajun Beat? A son of Grand Slam, Cajun Beat won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint and has never been beyond seven furlongs. He ran well in defense of his crown at Lone Star this year, finishing a decent fifth. In his races since the winter, however, Cajun Beat didn't show the same type of speed he had last year as a 3-year-old. When Frankel brought him back in the Grade 3 Hollywood Turf Express on Nov. 26, certainly the distance (5 1/2 furlongs) wasn't an issue, and he had run quite well in his only other turf try.

But when they came out of the gate, Cajun Beat was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Cajun Beat lumbered out of the gate like a 10-year-old basset hound. After a brisk quarter-mile in 21.25 seconds, Cajun Beat was still seventh of nine. He didn't appear to be going anywhere. The sizzling half in 43.60 was reminiscent of what Cajun Beat could do on dirt - but here he was still seventh, many lengths off the lead.

But then a light seemed to go on. Cajun Beat steadily advanced, picking up momentum, not like a sprinter, but like a horse gathering steam as if just getting started. They hit the eighth pole and Cajun Beat was in full flight, with dead aim on the leader, De Valmont, who still was three lengths to the good. But Cajun Beat continued to extend and roared by De Valmont as if he were standing still. Cajun Beat's final time of 1:02.08, on a course that was firm but hardly playing fast, earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 for his three-length victory. If the race had been six furlongs he would have won by five.

Frankel had mentioned earlier that he might be tempted to try Cajun Beat at a longer trip. If he ever needed any convincing, this should have done it. It wasn't so much that Cajun Beat won, it was the way he won. He showed a new temperament - complete patience - and the ability to turn it on when needed. It was that trait that took Farma Way from sprinter to top-class router. It was that trait that made Precisionist, Holy Bull, and Cigar great. It has been that trait that has taken Frankel's other big "sprinter," Ghostzapper, and turned him into the likely Horse of the Year.

This isn't to say Cajun Beat can be like Ghostzapper. This isn't to say he can even be like Farma Way, because 10 furlongs may still be pushing it. But in today's game you don't have to go 10 furlongs all that often. That means Cajun Beat has plenty of seven-to-nine-furlong races he can tackle. And since he is by Grand Slam, who could handle at least 1 1/8 miles, such a distance shouldn't be an issue.

Assuming Cajun Beat came out of the Turf Express in good shape, it's possible Frankel may experiment as early as next month, in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 8. After all, Cajun Beat has only run a few races after a lengthy vacation. He looks plenty fit and fresh enough. He's a gelding, too, so as long as he's doing well, there isn't a reason in the world not to run him.

In the television world, Hollywood is the stage for many makeover shows. It looks like Hollywood may have another one here.