01/28/2003 12:00AM

Party time, Brazilian style!


BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - His shoulders were sparkling with bright confetti. Behind him, the flag of his native Brazil was unfurled. He was surrounded by friends, family, and his partner, Marcos Simon, who stood proudly to one side, beaming with joy. It was Julio Camargo's night of nights, and he wanted to make the most of it.

"The dream comes true," Camargo said. More confetti filled the air.

The dream girl was Farda Amiga, principally owned by Camargo and Simon. Beginning the season with only a maiden win to her melodic name, she was chosen overwhelmingly as champion 3-year-old filly of 2002, while collecting 184 of the 212 votes cast in the division. Take Charge Lady, Imperial Gesture, and You were admirable alternatives, winning 11 stakes races among them, but in the end they received only token support.

Farda Amiga's championship was based upon a classic pattern of victories in two of the best races she could possibly win - the Kentucky Oaks and the Alabama Stakes - plus a respectable second to Horse of the Year Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

It was the Oaks, however, that made Camargo's year. It was the Oaks that put Farda Amiga - who was bred by Payson Stud in Kentucky - on the map. And it was the Oaks that Camargo was still celebrating last Monday night.

"I have been to Belmont Park, to Santa Anita, to Del Mar, to Longchamp - all the great tracks of the world," he said later in the evening. "But Churchill Downs, it means so much. It is the ultimate place to win.

"You know, there were 110,000 people there on the day of the Oaks," Camargo went on. "In Brazil we have big days, yes. But never 110,000! I did not think we were going to make it from our seats to the track."

They did, though, bursting into racing's consciousness with raucous celebration that will make highlight reels for years to come. In the Oaks, Farda Amiga and Chris McCarron combined to defeat such established stars as Habibti, You, and Take Charge Lady, and beat them conclusively.

Yet one race does not a championship make. Farda Amiga's Alabama Stakes was every bit as impressive as her Kentucky Oaks, especially since she did not compete in the more than three months in between. Her trainer, Paulo Lobo, had no delusions that Farda Amiga could upset Azeri in the Distaff ("Azeri is a monster," was his simple explanation.) But she was best of the rest of a field that included Imperial Gesture, Summer Colony, and Take Charge Lady.

So an Eclipse Award trophy now goes home to Sao Paolo, giving South American owners their first North American champion since Canonero, 32 years ago. Before they left, however, the Farda Amiga crew sang late into the night last Monday, parading the halls of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel while singing "We Are the Champions" and giving it a definite bossa nova twist. Queen never sounded better.