Trainer D. Wayne Lukas always has had a thing for records and the big time. Yesterday, his horse set a record when beating every big-timer in thoroughbred racing.
Farma Way, owned by the Quarter B Farm of coffee-machine magnate George Bunn and ridden by Gary Stevens, led all the way to win the $750,000 Pimlico Special, a race billed as a battle of champions.
His winning time of 1 minute, 52 2/5 seconds for 1 3/16 miles broke the stakes and Pimlico Race Course record, and it tied the American record set by Riva Ridge in 1973. Criminal Type, trained by Lukas, last year set a standard of 1:53 when winning the Special.
Summer Squall, winner of last year's Preakness, finished second, three lengths back. It was another 2 1/2 lengths to Jolie's Halo, who was followed by Festin, Silver Survivor, Unbridled and Reputed Testamony.
Farma Way broke sharply from his No. 2 post, then outran the expected front-runner, Jolie's Halo, for the lead. After opening a clear margin entering the backstretch, he maintained an open lead the rest of the way, paying $14.40 as the fourth choice.
Summer Squall, the 9-5 favorite ridden by Pat Day, was always in striking position on the rail. He made a brief move at Farma Way turning for home, but "he just ran away from us," said Day.
"I told Gary I thought he'd dictate the race," Lukas said. "I said just ride your race, whether it be from fourth, third or first."
Robin Platts, aboard Jolie's Halo, said: "I couldn't get close. I tried to close on him down the backstretch, but I couldn't get close. [Jolie's Halo] has never had a horse open up on him like that."
Lukas, 55, became the first trainer to top the $100 million earnings mark when Criminal Type won the Special en route to becoming the 1990 Horse of the Year. Lukas has been the leading money-winning trainer for the past eight years.
Lukas' brilliant record is what attracted Bunn, 75, founder of the Bunn coffee-machine company, to take Farma Way from Illinois trainer Neil Boyce late last year and give him to Lukas.
Soon after Lukas got him, Farma Way blossomed, winning five straight races at his Santa Anita home base before finishing seventh in the slop in the Oaklawn Handicap.
Included in the streak was a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap, second race in the American Championship Racing Series. The Pimlico Special was the fourth event in the 10-race series, which, on a 10-7-5-3-1 point system, now has a three-way tie for first place among Farma Way, Jolie's Halo and Festin. Each has 20 points. A $1.5 million bonus will be divided among the top four point earners.
Lukas said that as Farma Way, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Marfa, carried his lead to the half-mile pole, he got the same good feeling as when the colt won the Santa Anita Handicap.
"I took in a deep breath, just like [Farma Way] did," he said. "Then, I thought, it's going to be hell to catch us now."
The race's big disappointment was Unbridled, the 2-1 second choice. The colt made a brief move on the outside in the final
turn, then flattened out. He was beaten 10 lengths.
"[Pimlico] is just too speed-favoring," said his jockey, Craig Perret. "He's one of those big, long-striding horses that likes to see them get a little weak. He had a good opportunity, and maybe he did fire as good as he could today, but we were expecting a much bigger race out of him."
One thing that Farma Way did not get in the stretch was weak.
"I was very impressed with his Big 'Cap [Santa Anita Handicap] race and was just as impressed with this race," said Stevens. "He is so overpowering when he fires like that."
Lukas said that although he has other options, he is inclined to run Farma Way next in the $500,000-added Nassau County Handicap at Belmont Park, next stop in the ACRS series.
At a victory gathering after the race, Lukas -- ever the politician -saluted the other horses in the Special and their connections. He also went right to work on trying to win votes for Farma Way's 1991 Horse of the Year campaign.
Even during the colt's streak in California, Lukas avoided comparing Farma Way with Criminal Type and his other great runners. But when asked to do so after giving six foes a thrashing yesterday, he said with a smile, "He's the best now."