COUNTDOWN TO THE CUP: SAY UNCLE
Holy Mo-ly! Here comes Repole.
Get ready, racing, a tidal wave is about to engulf the sport and his name is Mike Repole, of Vitaminwater fame. And right now, it looks as if his horses are running on Vitaminwater.
But the drink of preference for Repole on Saturday was champagne, and there was plenty of the bubbly flowing in the Trustees Room following Uncle Mo’s victory in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I).
Repole, who grew up in Queens, has been dreaming of this day since he started coming to the track when he was 13. If you’ve never met Repole or seen him being interviewed, hold on to your hats.
In six years as a horse owner, he’s had little to show for it, and was always reminding everyone of his shabby 0-for-26 record in graded stakes and 0-for-36 goose egg at Saratoga in 2009. Then he hooked up with megatrainer Todd Pletcher, and before he knew it he was the leading owner at Saratoga in 2010, with a second-place finish in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) with Stay Thirsty and an otherworldly maiden victory by Uncle Mo the highlights of the meet.
It was no wonder that Repole was a wreck in the weeks prior to the Champagne, which caused him many a sleepless night. That first graded stakes victory was, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, quite a matzo ball hanging out there.
So, here was Repole, having just witnessed another spectacular performance from Uncle Mo, toasting the victory in the Trustees Room in front of his family and close friends, all 40 of them. None of them, by the way, was Uncle Mo, who is not a person, but a sports term for "momentum."
The gregarious and quick-witted Repole, whose passion for the sport is infectious, had been waiting a long time to make this toast, and he was not about to tolerate anything that would delay it.
First, he had to get the attention of his mother, who was chatting nearby. “Mom, Edith Bunker, stifle it, I’m making a toast,” he said to her. Laughter.
Then, just as he got everyone’s attention, a voice was heard: “Wait Mike, they’re showing the head-on.”
“We don’t care about the head-on,” he said. “Let Todd worry about that.” More laughter.
Finally, he began his toast, but was distracted by one of the uniformed waiters directly in front of him filling people’s glasses with champagne.
“Can you stop pouring; I’m making a toast,” Repole said. “When I’m speaking, you don’t pour,” Even louder laughter.
This is Mile Repole, a shoot-from-the-hip New Yawker, who has been the perfect foil for the publicly stoic Pletcher. Together, they have formed the greatest comedian-straight man team since Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
As Repole said of Pletcher, “Todd is the best in the business; there’s nobody better than him. And he’s getting better with me an owner. He was a good trainer before me and he’s only going to get better as I partner up with him.”
Most of Repole's quips are for effect, and he's darn good at it. The audience loves him. And no can tell a story like Repole. He proved that by beginning his toast with his purchase of Uncle Mo.
“I want to thank (bloodstock agent) Jim Crupi and (racing manager) Jimmy Martin. Last year, they bought me an Indian Charlie at the sale who cost me $200,000 and is now in a retirement home. So, when they called me on this Indian Charlie colt last September, I wasn’t interested at all. And then, thank God, Jimmy grabbed the phone from Jim and said, ‘Mike, you have to have this horse.’
“I said, ‘Put Jim back on the phone.’ I told him, ‘Go up to $200,000.’ Jim knows specifically, if he gets me on the phone while a horse is in the ring, he goes to $200,000 and not a penny more. So, then Jim calls me from the sale and says the horse is in the ring at $200,000 and it looks like we’re gonna get him. I’m going, ‘Please, somebody bid more.’ Then someone bids $210,000. I’m about to say, ‘That’s it, I’m out of it,’ when Jim says, ‘Let’s hit him one more time.’ To be honest with you, I thought he meant Crupi. I said, ‘Go ahead and hit him, because he cost me $200,000 last year. At the end of the day, we went to $220,000 and got him, and I swear to God on my life, if the horse had gone up to $220,000 and 10 cents, somebody else would have him. So I want to thank those two guys.
“I just want to say that success is always best when shared, and if I was here with two or three people this day wouldn’t be the same. But being here with everybody just makes it so much more special.”
Uncle Mo’s emphatic victory came close to one record and broke another.
The colt’s time of 1:34 2/5 (1:34.51) was only a fifth of a second off the stakes record set by Devil’s Bag in 1983. However, the scene in the box seat section after the race shattered the record for the most raucous celebration, set by M.C. Hammer and his entourage following Lite Light’s 10-length romp in the 1991 Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I).
Somewhere in the sea of waving arms and high fives was Repole, who was overcome with emotion as he bent down to hug and kiss his 84-year-old grandmother. Uncle Mo was already back and being circled by John Velazquez, but precious family moments such as this take precedence over everything and everyone else, including the handsome bay colt patiently waiting to head into the winner’s circle.
Uncle Mo had opened at 1-9 and would go off at 1-5 in the six-horse field, but that only made Repole more of a wreck, having to deal with the pressure of owning such an overwhelming favorite and racing’s next potential freak.
But all the worrying and sleepless nights were for nothing, as Uncle Mo set a hot pace of :22.41, :45.92, and 1:10.47, turned back the challenges of I’m Steppin’ It up and then Mountain Town, and drew off with an impressive :24.04 final quarter to win by 4 ¾ lengths under a hand ride.
Repole was thrilled to learn that Uncle Mo had just run as fast as Seattle Slew in the Champagne, and faster than Secretariat and Spectacular Bid.
“He’s such a talented horse, he’s able to do things other horses can’t do,” Pletcher said. “The sky’s the limit. I don’t see how a horse could start his career more impressively than he has. His maiden win was as good as I’ve seen, and then to come back and run 1:34 2/5 in the Champagne is unbelievable. Sometimes you see a horse go fast early and then they coast home. He gets stronger as he goes along. That’s what’s so impressive about him.”
After the race, Repole, still emotionally charged, was led to the Trustees Room for the traditional grade I celebratory glass of champagne
“What is this room?” he asked, as if a lifelong coach passenger entering the first-class lounge for the first time. “I’ve never seen this room before.”
Repole looked back at what was an unforgettable day. “I won the first race today with Run to Grand Ave. (trained by Bruce Levine), who is named after the OTB on Grand Avenue that I used to run to as a kid. Then, Gerard Loves Beer -- named after my brother; you can imagine what he loves -- wins a $20,000 maiden claimer (for trainer Bruce Brown). And then I win a Grade 1, having 40 friends and family here. It’s just amazing, and so surreal to have my grandmother, my wife, and my parents here. It’s what horse racing is all about.
“I also won a $20,000 claiming race at Delaware Park today. I was telling everyone if I go three for four I’m going to throw up. Who wins three races in one day and then wins a grade I?”
Mike Repole obviously does, so he better get used to it. And with the Breeders’ Cup and then the Kentucky Derby trail coming up, he also better make sure he’s well stocked with Sominex and Pepto Bismol.
by Steve Haskin
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