Who would have thought a horse with the name Lil E. Tee would win the Kentucky Derby?
How does Fafa Lemos sound?
There are plenty of horses with Maryland connections running in the Jim Beam Stakes today at Turfway Park.
One of them carries this unusual name and has an even more intriguing background.
The Jim Beam, with a $600,000 purse, is the richest of the Kentucky Derby preps and gained a great deal of credibility last year when the winner, Lil E. Tee, won the big race at Churchill Downs.
Now Fafa Lemos is trying to pull off the same double.
No Kentucky Derby winner, at least in modern times, has started for a $7,500 claiming tag.
But that lowly level, usually the bottom of the heap for maidens, is exactly where Fafa Lemos began his career on Jan. 2 on a frozen track.
No one could have guessed the colt, sired by Maryland stallion, Proud Truth, would win a $100,000 stakes two months later.
But he did.
Eduardo Caramori does not speak fluent English. He has only been in this country a year. But he is happy to discuss his prize runner.
Caramori, 34, is from Brazil and said he was a former leading trainer at Gavea, the principal track in Rio de Janeiro.
One his clients, an engineer named Gabriel Paes De Carvalho, spends half of his time in Brazil and the other half at his thoroughbred nursery, Apolon Farm, Inc., near Lexington, Ky.
Caramori came to the United States because he didn't see much a future in Brazil.
"There, training horses is not a job. It's a hobby," he said. "There are big races, but they have poor purses."
Once Caramori got to Kentucky, De Carvalho gave him the unruly Fafa Lemos to train.
"Another trainer had had him," Caramori said. "The horse refused to go to the track. He refused to gallop. He refused to go near the starting gate. It was clear I had to change the mind. So we jogged him, took him to the grass. Once we got him to gallop, he refused to pass another horse. That's why when we finally ran him, he ran so cheap."
Not only did Fafa Lemos break slow in his debut, but he also threw his jockey, Brian Peck, before the race and ran loose for a whole circuit around the Turfway strip.
Once caught and loaded, the gray rogue won by eight lengths. He is still a slow starter, but Caramori said the horse is no longer a problem mentally. He was sent off at 19-1 odds in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway two weeks ago, circled the field and won the $100,000 race by three-quarters of a length.
Still, Caramori harbors no illusions. "This [the Jim Beam] is a much tougher race. Some good horses are shipping in," he said.
What exactly does Fafa Lemos mean?
"It is the name of a Brazilian violinist," Caramori said. "He is an old man and I think he now lives in California. He is a close friend of the owner."
There is one other son of Proud Truth, named Proudest Romeo, in the Jim Beam. Also in the lineup is a Maryland-bred, Awad, owned by Jim Ryan of Mount Airy. Other horses with Maryland connections are Pimlico-based Raglan Road, trained by Leon Blusiewicz, and Deputy Sheriff, once trained at the Bowie Training Center by Ben Perkins Jr. and then Carlos Garcia. The Deputy Minister colt was sold last fall to his California owner, Gary Garber, after breaking his maiden at Laurel.
NOTES: The Jim Beam is simulcast at Pimlico/Laurel as the 10th race. . . . The Maryland tracks introduce a $2 triple today. "A lot of tracks we commingle with offer $2 triples, so we are doing it to add continuity," said general manager Jim Mango. . . . Pimlico/Laurel dropped its Gulfstream simulcast yesterday because of misinformation (wrong numbers) that appeared on the program. . . . Laurel artist Michael Geraghty is at Turfway and has been commissioned by the track to paint the Jim Beam winner. . . . Trainer Dick Small has re-assembled his stable stars, Valley Crossing, Star Minister and Broad Gains at Pimlico after wintering them in Camden, S.C. Valley Crossing is expected to run in the Jennings Handicap on April 17.