(Del Mar reports contributed to this article.)
He made a splash as the conditioner of the 2002 Eclipse Award-winning filly Farda Amiga. Now Brazilian trainer Paulo Lobo has what could be the nation's top sprinter in Pico Central, who competes in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar Sunday.With Farda Amiga's stunning 20-1 victory in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs and her win later in 2002 in Saratoga's Alabama (gr. I), Lobo gained a reputation for upsets in big races. But in Pico Central, who won the prestigious Carter and Metropolitan (both gr. I) handicaps in New York, Lobo's becoming better known for his training accomplishments.Pico Central ranks behind only Pleasantly Perfect on the current National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Top 10 poll. "It's most gratifying to see his success," Lobo said in a telephone conference call Tuesday. "He's doing great things for me. It was like what Farda Amiga had done for me. But they have very different styles. Farda Amiga was a champion at 3 and ran longer distances. Pico Central is a sprinter. He's a different kind of horse. But when you have a chance to train another grade I horse, it makes you prove that it's not just the horse, but your job, also."The cheeful 35-year-old Lobo, who trains Pico Central for international owner Gary A. Tanaka, has plenty to be proud of. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he was part of a family of horsemen. "All my family is connected to racing," he said in his accent-laced English. "My grandfather was a trainer. My father is a trainer. I have an uncle who is a veterinarian and I have a brother who is an auctioneer."He broke into the sport assisting his father in 1985. He went on his own in 1995. At 26, he became the youngest Brazilian trainer to win a race. During his five years of training there, Lobo enjoyed success, including group II and III victories.He transferred 70 horses he had in Brazil to his father before leaving for the United States in January 2001. He didn't come unarmed. A pair of owners partnered up to buy five yearlings at the Keeneland September sale in 2000. One of the five was Farda Amiga.The horses came to him in February after being broken. And the fun, including one of the most raucous winner's circle celebrations ever seen at Churchill Downs following Farda Amiga's Oaks' triumph, hasn't stopped. Lobo, who lives in Pasadena with his wife, Carolina, now has 32 horses in training at Hollywood Park. Most are for Brazilian owners Old Friends Inc., Winner Silk Inc., and TNT Stud, but he also has horses for Frank Stronach and Tanaka. Besides Pico Central, the Lobo barn includes Hatif, who won a 1 3/8-mile turf allowance race at Del Mar July 26 and is headed for the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Saturday. There's also Quero Quero, who is to run in the Beverly D. (gr. IT) on the same card at Arlington Park. Lovely Rafaela, who won Hollywood Park's Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on June 5, is getting some time off.Lobo's biggest problem with Pico Central, who arrived in his barn one year ago, has been getting the 5-year-old son of Spend a Buck to relax in his races."In his first two races at Santa Anita, he was rank when he came out of the gate, and we've been trying, ever since, to get him to relax," Lobo said. "That showed in the Metropolitan Handicap, where he settled into second and then went on to win."When Pico Central won the San Carlos (gr. II) at Santa Anita in March at odds of 43-1, Tanaka took an interest."That surprised everyone," Tanaka said during Tuesday's conference call. "We were impressed. He did it with authority. That was only his second race back, too, after coming from South America. It usually takes 6, 8, 9 months for them to acclimate. But he was really finding his gears. On that basis, we inquired (if he was for sale) and we got him. And we kept him with Paulo." Including one Brazilian start on dirt, Pico Central has won all five of his starts sprinting. Lobo said a Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) attempt to conclude the season is possible, although Pico Central would have to be supplemented.Of the horse's nature, Lobo said, "He's a very kind horse. He doesn't need to do too much to run. He's very sound, and has no bad habits."Pico Central will get a new rider for the Pat O'Brien. With Alex Solis out with an injury, David Flores gets the call.