Homeracing

How did Paulo Lobo get back to the biggest stage? He never gave up

Profile Picture: Jeremy Balan

November 6th, 2021

DEL MAR, Calif. -- Two wins in 2015. Five wins in 2016. Four wins in 2017. Four wins in 2018.

This is not the way to make a living as a Thoroughbred racehorse trainer, and it was Paulo Lobo’s reality. The thought of giving up horses never entered his mind, but his mind wandered.

How do I stay afloat?

“I never thought about giving up,” Lobo said this week, as he prepared two horses to run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar. “What I thought, two or three times, was maybe driving an Uber at night to keep me going. I thought seriously about it. I have two daughters to raise.”

It’s not an unfamiliar story. Small to mid-sized barns are leaving the game. It’s a hard life, and the margin for error is slim. If one horse in a five-stall operation gets injured or falls ill, even for a short period of time, 20% of earning potential (or more, depending on the quality of the horse) is lost.

“A lot of guys think about it and never say it — to get another job to keep going,” Lobo said. “When you have a small barn, and you have one good horse, that horse is going to retire one day. You’re going to have more horses if you do good, but how are you going to do good if you have no horses? You have to work and you have to deliver good results, but it’s a circle.”

But everything changed when Lobo packed up and moved his operation from California to Kentucky, in 2019, at the request of Bonne Chance Farm CEO Alberto Figueiredo, a childhood friend of Lobo’s. They grew up as racetrack kids in Brazil, where Lobo’s father was a top trainer.

“I always believed. I never had any doubt about his talent. Never ever. Never had a second thought that he wasn’t the right man,” Figueiredo said.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Lobo didn’t forget how to train a quality racehorse, and what he achieved prior to his down time in California was no accident.

In just his second year of training in the United States, after he moved to North America from Brazil, Lobo won the 2002 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Alabama S. (G1), and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), all with the standout filly Farda Amiga.

A couple years later, Lobo campaigned the Brazilian-bred Pico Central to victories in the San Carlos H. (G2), Carter H. (G1), Metropolitan H. (G1), and the Vosburgh S. (G1), all in a span of seven months. In the Met Mile, Pico Central dusted the notable names of Azeri and Funny Cide.

Lobo had other good horses along the way — 2008 Arkansas Derby (G2) victor Gayego, two-time Grade 2 winner Molengao, and back-to-back Berkeley H. (G3) winner Editore, just to name a few — but he didn’t have another Grade 1 winner until Ivar won the Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland in 2020. In Love gave Lobo a second win in the Turf Mile this year, and both will represent Lobo in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.

There is also a gap in Lobo's North American statistics, from late 2010 to late 2014, when he moved back to Brazil to be the private trainer for owner Julio Camargo, but it never felt right.

“I had good years there, training for them, but all those years in Brazil — I wasn’t happy there,” Lobo said. “I love this country. I love the way we work and live here. My two daughters were born in Los Angeles. Something was missing.”

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

So, back to the U.S. Lobo went, but circumstances were different. The time in Brazil made it tough to get back on his feet stateside. He still had support from Brazilian owners, but other clients weren’t coming so easily. He won just less than 7% of his races from 2014 to 2018.

But during his first season based in Kentucky, 2019, the win percentage jumped to 14%.

The next year, Ivar emerged. A champion in Argentina in 2019, the Brazilian-bred son of Agnes Gold owned by Bonne Chance and Stud R D I won a Churchill Downs allowance, placed in the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs, then broke through in the Turf Mile at Keeneland. He then ran a quality race in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he hit the wire fourth but was only beaten two lengths by winner Order of Australia.

Led by Ivar’s contributions, Lobo-trained horses earned more than $1 million in purses for the first time since 2008, and his win percentage moved up again, to 17%.

This season, another turf standout has come through, also owned by Bonne Chance and Stud R D I — In Love. But the Brazilian-bred, also by Agnes Gold, didn’t always look like a standout.

In Love won a Keeneland allowance in October of 2020, then Lobo decided to give him the winter off but didn’t send the gelding to the farm. He kept him at the track, in light training. In Love’s first three starts of the 2021 season did not result in wins, so Lobo and Bonne Chance tried to find an easier spot, and one came up at Arlington Park, but it didn’t turn out to be so easy.

In the about one-mile turf test on the Arlington grass, it looked like In Love would win by multiple lengths by the time he reached midstretch. He had gone by pacesetter Dyn O Mite, but then he started to idle.

“We sent him to Arlington to get him to learn what winning means,” Figueiredo said. “But even then, we’re watching the race and thinking, he’s going to win by three lengths, he’s going to win by one length, and then — shit! Come on, man.”

In Love held on to win by a neck, but his lack of late focus didn’t inspire confidence. It did, however, inspire Lobo to add blinkers for In Love.

“That changed everything,” the trainer said.

In Love responded with the two best races of his career, a 2 1/4-length victory in a listed stakes at Kentucky Downs and a 1 1/2-length score in the Turf Mile at Keeneland. He is now the 8-1 co-third choice in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Along with his Breeders' Cup prospects, Lobo now has quality juveniles coming in from both Bonne Chance and Brownwood Farm yearly, and even trains for OXO Equine, owned by Larry Best, who regularly spends millions buying horses at sales.

When Lobo arrived in Kentucky, he had a handful of horses. Now he has 50 under his care in the Bluegrass State.

“I’m feeling rewarded,” Lobo said. “Even my best years, when I started, I never had a lot of numbers. Now I have 50 horses. I was always very lucky to have one good horse, year by year, and I’m still receiving good horses.”

“It’s not by accident,” Figueiredo added. “He deserves it.”

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Loading...