(As part of special series leading up to the Triple Crown, Mike Repole, owner of undefeated champion Uncle Mo, has agreed to author an exclusive guest blog for Triple Crown Talk. The blog, a diary of sorts, will chronicle Repole's thoughts on the Kentucky Derby favorite as he makes his way through the Triple Crown trail. Repole will do his best to respond to questions and comments, though please understand that his time is limited).
I remember the fall afternoon in September, 2009 like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my New York office when my racing manager, Jim Martin, called me about Hip No. 1193--a number I will never forget. He said he and Jimmy Crupi loved this bay colt at the Keeneland yearling sale. I was very excited as I grabbed my book and looked up Hip No. 1193, however I quickly became disappointed when the first thing I saw was that he was by Indian Charlie. My immediate reaction was, "Are you guys crazy? I don't have any luck with Indian Charlie!"
As I sit here writing this 17 months later, I have to look back at that day and laugh about adamantly not being interested in buying a colt who I would later name Uncle Mo. Though it pains me to give those two guys credit, I am not embarrassed to say without them I would have never owned what I think is the best 3-year-old Thoroughbred on the planet. My goal is to surround myself with the smartest people in the industry and empower them to make decisions, and that's what I've done. That being said, at the end of the day I'm the one writing the checks, so I have to at least give myself some credit!
It was in March, 2010 when I actually saw Uncle Mo breeze for the first time. I had 20 2-year-olds at Jimmy Crupi's New Castle Farm in Ocala, and all of them were getting set to work. On hand with me were Jim, Jimmy, and Todd Pletcher.
Of the 20 horses, Mo easily stood out from the others. Even as Mo worked an easy three furlongs, it was clearly evident not only how fast he was but how easily he was moving. If you hadn't seen the stopwatch, you would have thought he was galloping. It was a thing of beauty. Todd looked over at me and said, "That's the best horse you own."
I replied back to Todd, "It doesn't take four Eclipse Awards to figure that out. Thanks."
When Mo went to Todd in June he quickly confirmed his status as his top 2-year-old. He was showing all the signs of being a star already, but until they spring the gates in the afternoon you never know. He was the worst kept tip in racing history when he went off at 4-5 in 12-horse field in his Aug. 28 debut at Saratoga, but we got our answer when Mo romped by more than 14 lengths in an absolutely breathtaking performance.
To steal Travers day, with all the major stakes winners we saw--Afleet Express, Discreetly Mine, and Rightly So to name a few--was utterly amazing. Being a fan for 30 years and an owner for six years, I knew it was special, but looking back now I guess I was a little naïve about the magnitude of what I just witnessed and how much buzz this horse would generate over the coming weeks. It wasn't just the winning margin that was so impressive, but also the final time and how easily he did it. The 102 Beyer and 2 1/2 Ragozin number that he scored were some of the fastest we've ever seen from a 2-year-old. Within a couple of days I was turning down million dollar offers for Mo.
Then it was off to the Champagne in early October where Mo went to Belmont as the 1-5 morning-line favorite. Fortunately for Mo, he wasn't aware that his owner carried an 0-for-27 streak into graded stakes races--a streak that covered over 3 1/2 years. It was easily the most nerve-wracking week and race I've ever had as an owner. I called Todd at least 50 times that week and went to see Mo three times. I'm not sure if I was more excited or sick. With 50 friends and family on hand at my home racetrack and a horse who was already being billed as potentially the next superstar, there was a lot of pressure. As the race unfolded, that pressure turned to outright fear when I saw Mo being pressed through an opening half in :45 and 4/5. At that moment, I thought there was no way this horse was going to be able to hold onto this lead.
So when he opened up in the stretch and pulled clear to win by almost five lengths, I was not only in awe but was so emotional that I had tears in my eyes--he had just finished up in 1:34 2/5, just one 1/5 off the stakes record! The win that day, believe it or not, was even more satisfying and more fun than the Breeders' Cup Juvenile four weeks later. Before that race, I was known as the Vitaminwater guy who owned a bunch of $20,000 claimers and couldn't win a graded stakes. Finally, the kid from Queens won a grade I race in front of the hometown fans. It was off to Louisville.
To have just one Breeders' Cup starter is a thrill of a lifetime. With both Mo and Stay Thirsty there, it was truly unbelievable. And, oh by the way, they were in the same race. With more than 50 friends and family making the trip, Thursday felt like Thanksgiving, Friday felt like Christmas Eve, and Saturday felt like Christmas Day. Mo had brought together my closest friends and family, from my 5-year-old niece to my 85-year-old grandmother. Win or lose, the weekend was going to be very special. For a normally high-strung, Type A guy like myself, I felt unusually calm and satisfied.
The biggest thrill I've ever gotten in racing--and I still have chills as I write this--was watching Mo racing near five horses who were within about a length of him at the top of the stretch, and then seeing him open up by five lengths in what seemed like five seconds. It felt like a Mike Tyson first-round knockout when he was in his prime. There was such a feeling of joy and emotion after that race to not only own a Breeders' Cup winner, but also the likely 2-year-old champion.
There are a lot of great horses who have had outstanding 2-year-old campaigns, and from now on when they talk about the great ones, Mo will always be mentioned in that conversation.
Many reporters have asked me what my goal is in promoting Mo. It's an easy answer for me. I'm a horse racing fan first and an owner second. My only goal is to make Uncle Mo as accommodating and accessible as possible to the fans; whether it's through this blog, or his Facebook and Twitter pages, or by answering the many letters I get--some of them from as far away as Japan. All I want to do is give back to the fans that have supported him. Since I'm also a fan, that's what I would want too. At the end of the day I'm not going to ask other owners to follow my lead, but I would hope that they will share their special horses with racing fans as well.
Photo: Joe DiOrio
After some much deserved time off at the New Castle, Mo is back. Unfortunately so is my stress and anxiety, but more importantly, the excitement is too. Owning a special horse like Mo is a roller-coaster of emotions. Mo had a stretch-your-legs type of work on Jan. 30 at Palm Meadows and then a really strong week of galloping after that. On Feb. 6, he had a particularly encouraging work that Todd termed "excellent and textbook." That's all I needed to hear from Todd. Mo is back!!!!
As everyone knows, with horses you have to take one day, one breeze, one race at a time. You can't get too far ahead of yourself. We couldn't be any happier with how he is doing right now, and that is all we can hope for. As of today, we can't be in any better position. He is the Kentucky Derby favorite and right now I feel like I am the luckiest horse owner in the world. I'm so appreciative and blessed, and wouldn't trade places with anyone.
I'm sincerely overwhelmed at the genuine interest and love so many fans have shown in Mo. When Blood-Horse asked me if I was interested in doing this blog, I wasn't just interested, I was flattered. I look forward to sharing more with all of you in the next blog and answering your questions. Until then, let's all hope we can keep the MOmentum going!
Wishing you the best,
For more on Uncle Mo's pedigree click here
Photo: Joe DiOrio