With Uncle Mo taking the Kentucky Derby trail by storm this year, it’s only natural for Mike Repole to want a piece of the action. After all, it was Repole who first struck the mother lode with Uncle Mo as a racehorse and potential superstar, and after watching his sons running amok on the Derby trail all winter, he finally has a chance to join the party when he sends out Uncle Mo’s brilliant son Outwork in Saturday’s Wood Memorial.
Uncle Mo already has two horses in the Kentucky Derby field – Florida Derby winner Nyquist, the early favorite, and LeComte winner Mo Tom and possibly Risen Star runner-up Forevamo, if he can get in. He also has Robert Lewis Stakes runner-up Uncle Lino trying to earn a spot in the Derby in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby and Gotham Stakes runner-up Laoban trying to earn a spot in the Blue Grass Stakes. And he had three of the 10 starters in the Louisiana Derby and three of the seven starters in the Gotham Stakes.
So, although it is not likely, Uncle Mo could have as many as six horses in the Kentucky Derby. Even looking ahead to the Preakness, he has Private Terms Stakes winner Abiding Star.
But right now, Repole is only thinking about Outwork, who is coming off a game second to stablemate Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby, his third career start and first start around two turns.
Repole, who also owns another talented 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo in Mo Power, is amazed at what Uncle Mo has achieved as a stallion in such a short period of time, and how dominant he’s become.
“I can't believe Uncle Mo will be a better stallion than he was a racehorse,” Repole said. “We are so lucky. He’s just amazing. Outwork and Mo Power are so much fun to own. Outwork could be special. The Tampa Bay Derby was a tough loss, but it was his first start around two turns and it took a 100 Beyer and a track record to beat him. As it is, he still got a 98 Beyer.”
When Uncle Mo stormed on the scene in 2010 as one of the most brilliant 2-year-olds seen in years, Repole stormed on the scene right along with him, engulfing the sport like the proverbial tidal wave. No one had seen anyone quite like him. He was your quintessential New Yawka who would shoot from the hip, mixing acerbic and hilarious with a delivery that rivaled Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
That is why winning the Champagne Stakes with Uncle Mo, who was coming off only one start, a 14 1/4-length romp in 1:09 1/5, meant so much to Repole.
Repole, who grew up in Queens, had 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 his first six years as a horse owner, he 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 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 that 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.
When Uncle Mo demolished his opponents in the Champagne in a blazing 1:34 2/5, there was plenty of bubbly flowing in the Trustees Room following the race.
Here was Repole, having just witnessed another spectacular performance by Uncle Mo, toasting the victory 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 Mike Repole, 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 hit 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.”
However, the scene in the Trustees Room was nothing compared to the scene in Repole’s box seat section after the race, where we saw the most raucous celebration since M.C. Hammer and his entourage following Lite Light’s 10-length romp in the 1991 Coaching Club American Oaks.
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 superstar.
But all the worrying and sleepless nights were for nothing, as Uncle Mo set a hot pace of :22 2/5, :45 4/5, and 1:10 2/5, turned back the challenges of I’m Steppin’ It Up and then Mountain Town, and drew off with an impressive :24 flat final quarter to win by 4 3/4 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.
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, and he’s now gotten used to it. Uncle Mo would go on to romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but his 3-year-old campaign was a nightmare, beginning with a shocking defeat at 1-10 in the Wood Memorial. After the race it was discovered he was suffering from a gastrointestinal infection. After being treated with antibiotics, he was sent to Churchill Downs, where he appeared to be doing well. But he began regressing immediately after being taken off the antibiotics, losing over 70 pounds, and was scratched from the Derby on the eve of the race.
After a biopsy of the liver and lymph nodes, he was diagnosed with a rare liver disease called cholangiohepatitis, a severe inflammation of the bile passages and liver. He was then turned out at WinStar Farm to recuperate.
He returned in late August and ran his heart out in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, but was beaten a nose in a swift 1:21 2/5. Then came the Kelso Handicap at Belmont, and he had jaws dropping with his three-length victory, in which he covered the mile over a dead muddy track in a scorching 1:33 4/5. By comparison, Flat Out won the Jockey Club Gold Cup two races later in 2:03, the slowest time ever recorded since the race was changed to 1 1/4 miles in 1990.
Uncle Mo wasn’t the same horse when he ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and tired badly. It was to be his final career start.
As brilliant as he was as a racehorse, no one could have envisioned his remarkable early success as a stallion, especially on the Derby trail.
“We were all short changed on how good Uncle Mo could have been as a racehorse,” Repole said. “Todd always said Mo could have gotten the mile and quarter. His Kelso was special, but the Juvenile was spectacular. I’m not sure where he’ll be ranked among the all-time 2-year-olds, but I’m sure it’s high.
“I’m breeding 10 mares to him this year…and for as long as I can.”