Farma Way was fast asleep when his trainer dropped by the barn before the big race. The horse was on his side, conked out like a hung-over conventioneer at a Holiday Inn, silent as a lamb.
Well, almost silent.
"I went in about 11:30 this morning and he was laying deep in the straw, snoring out loud," trainer Wayne Lukas said.
Farma Way also was fast awake. He shook his tail at the field in Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap, winning by nearly three lengths, whereupon jockey Gary Stevens--once a Kentucky Derby winner--hailed Farma Way as "the best horse I've ridden."
Three hours before the race, Lukas looked in on his 4-year-old like a parent checking up on a sleeping child. He was happy to see Farma Way hit the hay. He did everything but bring him warm milk and sing him a lullaby. Catching a nap before running in a $1-million race could make the colt feel like a million.
When Lukas took over as trainer, Farma Way was the shakiest thing on four feet. Before a race, the horse usually sweated like a pig. He was jumpy and nervous. Had some respiratory trouble, too.
Hmmm. Too much coffee, maybe.
Farma Way is owned by George Bunn, the coffeepot king. Bunn made his fortune that way. Even the coffee-maker in Santa Anita's press box is a Bunn-omatic. For breakfast, while washing down his oats or oat bran or whatever, it could be Farma Way got himself wired with too much caffeine.
Maybe Bunn should have entered a horse in last Thursday's eighth race at Santa Anita, a $50,000 stake for Cal-breds--the DiMaggio. Any race named after Joe DiMaggio deserves to have a challenge from a rival Mr. Coffee.
Bunn had never seen Farma Way run before. He was superstitious enough not to want to bring him bad luck.
Lukas reassured him: "This horse is too good for you to screw him up."
Too good for Lukas to screw up, also, although the last time Wayne Lukas made somebody's horse run slower, nobody can remember.
One prize that had gotten away from Lukas over the years had been the Big 'Cap, a race won by the likes of Seabiscuit, John Henry and Affirmed. Had he gotten his hands on Farma Way sooner, he might have had another colt in that class.
Lukas didn't lose any sleep over it--obviously, neither did his horse--but the thought of never occupying the winner's circle after a Santa Anita Handicap did leave at least one blank page in his scrapbook.
Then he found Farma Way sawing logs.
Good way to save energy. The trainers of Joe Louis used to watch him take a snooze in the dressing room, minutes before a championship fight. Made them feel more confident, same way it did Lukas.
"I thought: 'We're going to be fine,"' Lukas said. "The last one I had who did that was Codex. He slept until it was time to go to work in the Preakness."
First rule of racing: Let sleeping nags lie.
"Maybe we're learning some things," Lukas said. "Ten years ago, maybe they won in spite of me. We're getting more in tune with the horses today. If you can keep them happy and get them to do what they do best and to think like you do, then you've got something."
Farma Way at first didn't strike anybody as a horse that could run a far way. They pegged him as a better bet for shorter races, six furlongs to a mile.
But look at him now.
After watching him breeze without so much as a wheeze over 1 1/4 miles, Lukas said: "He exerts so little energy. I don't think he took a breath until the quarter-pole."
The jockey was just along for the ride.
"He (the horse) was totally relaxed and professional," Stevens raved. "I never hit him. When he switched to his right lead at the eighth pole, it was like somebody put a jet beneath him. I didn't need to hit him."
The first rider to win back-to-back Big 'Caps since 1966-67, Stevens says this mount is unique.
"This horse has done some things I've never experienced before," Stevens said. "He's the best horse I've ridden. He seems like he will come home in the last quarter the same way, whether it be a seven-furlong race or a mile-and-a-quarter. He just gallops a mile and then turns it on."
And the more rest Farma Way gets, the faster and farther he might run. Next year, maybe the L.A. Marathon.