11/15/2002 1:00AM

Farda Amiga's owner has a plan


LEXINGTON, Ky. - It's been a busy week for Jose De Camargo. De Camargo is a part owner of Kentucky Oaks winner Farda Amiga, who retired from racing on Wednesday.

De Camargo, exuberant and lavishly mustachioed, became a popular figure at Farda Amiga's races, leading victory celebrations with the mare's other owners, Julio Camargo and Marcos Simon. Now, he is busy sifting through options for Farda Amiga's mating plans, which probably will be settled by early next week.

But Farda Amiga is not the only, or even the biggest, project the Brazilian bloodstock agent has going these days. He also operates a 182-acre Versailles, Ky., farm called Santa Escolastica, in whose name he bought Chilean horse of the year Crystal House, the $210,000 session-topping mare at the Keeneland November sale on Tuesday. De Camargo also signed for three other mares at the auction, all part of his ongoing dual-hemisphere racing and sales operation.

De Camargo, 48, has lived in Kentucky since 1988. He was the first to shuttle a stallion to South America, in 1991, when he sent Walmac stallion Fast Gold to Brazil.

About four years ago, he spotted a new opportunity: to buy athletic, American-bred fillies, send them to race in Argentina, then either sell them as made runners to American-based owners or retire and breed them.

"We have various clients who want to play a little bit with their money, and they get to race and breed with this program," De Camargo said.

De Camargo has offered what he called "educational trips" to South America for interested American investors, designed to introduce them to South American racing, breeding, facilities, and horsemen. "That made them feel confident about the program and my people," he said.

De Camargo began by buying American weanling fillies for export. The first group is now 2-year-olds in training in Argentina.

De Camargo points out that Argentina's economic situation - one peso currently is worth about 28 cents - makes it far cheaper to assess a horse's racing potential there than here. De Camargo estimates that one month of training in Argentina costs only $350.

At American auctions, De Camargo looks for athletic fillies by young sires whose third or fourth crops are on the ground. Those stallions generally are less expensive than either first-crop or established sires, because they are neither the latest fashion nor a proven commodity. "The market often will reject a stallion in his third or fourth year, so those weanlings cost less," De Camargo said.

The weanlings that become top runners in South America can either sell profitably or join the mare band to produce more good runners.

De Camargo projects that the program's South American-based broodmare band will top out at about 50.

It got a boost at Keeneland November. Santa Escolastica bought nine horses - seven mares and two weanlings for a total of $562,500 - all of whom will head for South America.

De Camargo expanded his buying plan to include mares when he found several South American-bred mares like Crystal House on offer. With American buyers focusing on American pedigrees, and South American buyers hamstrung by poor economic conditions in their homeland, De Camargo faces less competition now for the kinds of mares he needs.

"American buyers will only buy South American mares if they have some performance up here," he said. "It's hard for me to buy a top American performer here, but I can buy a top performer from South America that is for sale here."

De Camargo also is developing a 300-acre farm, Carampangue, near Buenos Aires with partner Dr. Ignacio Pavlovsky, an Argentine veterinarian and racing commissioner.

"We will send all the mares we buy here to Argentina to produce their foals there," De Camargo said. "We'll race the foals and then bring some of the top runners back to America. I hope the American people will buy my racehorses. That's our goal, to make racehorses."