01/21/2003 12:00AM

Eclipses will be like Carnival

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Paulo Lobo does not need the suspense, the fumbling with the envelope, the dramatic pause for effect. There can be only one name in there, only one 3-year-old filly worth calling the champion of her generation in 2002.

Still, it doesn't hurt to make him sweat. Let the rookie squirm. Two years ago, who was Paulo Lobo anyway? Just a new guy with a handful of stalls at Hollywood Park and a little bit of store-bought English. What right does he have, muscling in on the biggest night in North American racing?

"It is amazing," Lobo agreed. "It is a dream."

It is also unprecedented. While Take Charge Lady and Imperial Gesture are admirable finalists in the category, it figures to be Paulo Lobo and the rest of the Farda Amiga team taking the stage on Monday night in Beverly Hills. When they do, they will be celebrating the first Eclipse Award champion represented by owners and a trainer from the horse-rich nation of Brazil. And boy do they know how to celebrate.

Jose de Camargo, Marcus Simon, and Julio Camargo turned the winner's circle at Churchill Downs into a Rio Carnival last May after Farda Amiga upset the Kentucky Oaks at odds of 20-1.

They were flying high again at Saratoga three months later when their filly won the Alabama. And even though Azeri showed everyone who was boss in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park, Farda Amiga came on strong in the final yards to be beat Imperial Gesture for second, leaving no doubt as to who belonged at the head of the 3-year-old class.

Not bad for a filly who came equipped with lowered expectations.

According to Lobo, at least one veterinarian said she would never be able to race.

Bred by Virginia Kraft Payson, Farda Amiga was consigned near the end of the first session at the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale. She had the pedigree (by Broad Brush out of a Pleasant Colony mare) and the looks to catch the eye of agent de Camargo just as he and his clients were about to leave the pavilion. They stayed, and were willing to go as high as $100,000.

"They got her for $45,000," Lobo said. "That's when they knew there was trouble."

Had they had time to check the paperwork, they would have learned the filly had been diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans lesions on her stifles. And while OCD lesions are routinely treatable with surgery, there is no guarantee that a young horse will recover sufficiently enough to run to its potential. Farda Amiga turned out to be a glorious exception.

"She didn't even need surgery," Lobo said. "They took their time with her, developing the muscles as she grew, with a lot of jogging and then galloping. By the time she got to the track, if you didn't know she had OCD you could never tell at all."

Lobo was always the cool customer at the center of the joyful chaos surrounding Farda Amiga's victories. At the age of 34, he is a classically trained horseman whose father, Selmar Lobo, was Brazil's champion trainer from 1990 through 1997 and leads the standings again this year. Asked to describe the breadth of the Lobo Brazilian operation in American terms, Paulo replied, "Like Frankel or Baffert," with considerable family pride.

It was from this secure nest that Lobo and his wife, Carolina, took flight in early 2001, equipped with the backing of key Brazilian clients and the promise of those few stalls at Hollywood Park. On Feb. 2 of that year, Lobo began setting up shop in Southern California. Eight days later, seven horses arrived, five of them freshly turned 2-year-olds. Farda Amiga was one of them.

"She was pretty, very pretty," Lobo said, then he changed his mind. "Very beautiful."

Lobo was sitting beneath a photograph of Farda Amiga hanging above the desk in his office at Hollywood Park's barn 53, where his stable has grown to 15 runners. There were no other pictures on the walls.

"Look at her," Lobo said, gazing upward as if beholding the Madonna. "What a warrior."

The filly in the photo had just come back from a layoff of more than 100 days to win the Alabama. She was splattered with mud, with more mud clotting her nostrils and eyes, clinging to her sheepskin shadow roll and dribbling down her neck. Yes, she was beautiful.

"That week I thought I had a big problem," Lobo said. "When she got to Saratoga, on Tuesday, she was very quiet. She would not eat. She was like that Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday she galloped, and we gave her a school. That's when she finally woke up."

Then she went to work. Farda Amiga caught Allamerican Bertie and You to win that difficult Alabama, just as she had come from far back to sweep past Take Charge Lady and Habibti in the Kentucky Oaks.

Farda Amiga was retired with an unrelated injury late last year, and now, a pearl of great price, she will be bred to Gone West. Lobo can only hope another one like her comes his way. But even if he never trains another champion, Farda Amiga has put him in the history books to stay.