Saratoga's Leading Owner Comes To Breeders
SARATOGA'S LEADING OWNER COMES TO BREEDERS
Entrepreneur and horse owner Mike Repole ' who has the exciting favorite Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs ' calls himself a 'winaholic.''I'm addicted to winning,' he said.
So that made his 2009 Saratoga meet especially painful. Repole was the winningest owner in New York last year but was blanked with 36 starters at Saratoga. And if you didn't know that, he'd tell you.
'I went out there like a moron and told everybody, 'I was a loser; I didn't win a race. I was 0 for 36,' and I can tell you how I lost, what my odds were,' he said last month. 'I had four horses with over a 99 Beyer (speed figure) and lose. I told my friend, 'That's like bowling 280 four straight games and losing to someone who bowls 299.'
'... But a lot of times I use that as a motivation. I have a horse named Driven By Fear. There's a meaning behind that.'
Repole, 41, is a self-made really rich man from Queens, the son of Italian immigrants ' his dad a waiter and his mom a seamstress. Repole became the first in his family to go to college, St. John's, then became president and co-founder of the maker of Vitaminwater, which he sold to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion before he was 40.
Even if you don't know Repole ' and many racing people outside of New York probably didn't until Uncle Mo came along ' you've probably seen one of his inspirations: the Vitaminwater commercial on the Super Bowl telecast with Shaquille O'Neal in jockey silks coming from last place to win a horse race.
What does that have to do with Uncle Mo?
Repole' who was betting $2 a race at Aqueduct when he was 12 ' knows something about changing business plans.
Having owned horses for five years, he began focusing on quality over quantity, dropping from 120 horses to about 80.
The day after the 2009 Saratoga meeting ended, he decided to send horses to record-setting trainer Todd Pletcher, whom he says 'runs his business like a CEO' with his morning training like 'Rick Pitino would run a basketball practice.'
I may be the most competitive person I know; he's a close second,' Repole said of Pletcher. 'I'm so happy he won the Derby. I still joke with him that he's 1for 28 and he's batting 4 percent. I tell him he's 3 for 66 in the Breeders' Cup.'
Joining forces with Pletcher, Repole went 13 for 46 to win Saratoga's title this year. Two of those wins were impressive performances by Stay Thirsty (by 5 1/2 lengths) and Uncle Mo (14 1/4 lengths on the Travers undercard) in maiden races.
Repole names horses after family members, including 2-year-old filly Stopspendingmaria after his wife. But he doesn't have an Uncle Mo.
'Uncle Mo is a sports term for momentum,' he said. 'You always want Uncle Mo on your side. And I've wanted to use the name for the last six years, but Repole Stables has never had the momentum it's had now, and I really thought I had a good group of 2-year olds right now.
'Teaming up with Todd Pletcher, who is the best trainer in the country by far, it was the time to use the name.'
And Stay Thirsty? As a marketer, Repole loves the Dos Equis ads that end, 'Stay thirsty, my friends.' Coincidentally, Dos Equis is a Breeders' Cup sponsor.
Stay Thirsty came back in the closing-day Hopeful, finishing second to Juvenile contender Boys At Tosconova.
But the Champagne ended another 0-fer streak Repole will tell you about: He'd never won a Grade I stakes in 26 attempts until Uncle Mo prevailed by 4 3/4 lengths and a fifth-second off the stakes record. Repole had a business plan about that too: He wore a black, Johnny Cash-style suit to Belmont to change his luck.
After he won, the man describes himself as happy but never content (and named a horse Never Content) actually let himself revel in the win.
'The enjoyment part lasted a lot longer than I thought ' like to about this weekend,' he said. 'Now that we've got the final work with Stay Thirsty and Mo, the old nerves are starting to kick in right now ... Knowing that the draw is (today), it's becoming a reality.
Indeed, Repole is about to start another streak: He has never before had a Breeders' Cup horse. After Saturday, he notes he'll either be 1 for 2 or 0 for 2, unless the really crazy dream of a dead-heat happens.
'The Classic and the Juvenile have always been my favorite (Breeders' Cup) races,' he said. 'The Classic because it decides Horse of the Year. The Juvenile because it's who's going to be the next superstar for next year. And to have not only one chance but two chances is a dream come true.
'I think Mo is going to be the favorite and Stay Thirsty probably 7-, 8-1. Everyone wants to talk about Uncle Mo. But to me, I have two really legit chances.'
Pletcher said Uncle Mo's stride reminds him of Zayat Stable's Eskendereya, his Wood Memorial winner who was the Derby favorite until being retired with an injury.
'They both kind of lower their heads, get low and just reach out way in front of them and cover a lot of ground,' he said. 'Eskendereya really came into his own in the beginning of his 3-year-old year, where Uncle Mo has found himself a little sooner. But I see a lot of similarities in the two. Both horses have speed with the ability to carry it over a distance of ground.'
But Stay Thirsty is bred for much longer distances, being by 2006 3-year-old champion and Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Bernardini and out of a Storm Bird mare.
'Look at his resume ' it's pretty solid, two seconds and first,' Pletcher said. 'The exciting thing about him is he's bred to run much farther. It's a little bit of a surprise to us that he's been as precocious as he is and that he's gotten him to this point already. When we bought him, we really anticipated that he'd find his peak as a 3-year-old ' and he still might.'
Repole calls Stay Thirsty his stable's Rodney Dangerfield.
'People would love to have Stay Thirsty in their barn,' he said. 'But because of Uncle Mo, every time I get a phone call, people want to talk Uncle Mo. Every time I see Stay Thirsty in the morning, I pat him and give him carrots, then I go watch Uncle Mo work.'
by Jennie Rees