Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Mike Repole Chats Racing Friends Becoming Family, Champion Forte's Return, Winning Belmont StakesThe Life
Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they travel the Road to the 149th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
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This week’s installment features Mike Repole, who is living the American dream as the son of a seamstress and waiter who has reached unimagined heights. He is veteran owner who became passionate about Thoroughbred racing by going to Aqueduct as a teenager.
Repole, 54, has experienced the highs and lows of the game to a greater degree than most. The Queens, N.Y., native shed tears of joy last June when he became a partner in Mo Donegal and the filly Nest and was rewarded with a one-two finish in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
He also endured heartbreak when Uncle Mo, his 2-year-old champion in 2010, had to be scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby with what was ultimately diagnosed as a rare liver disorder.
Repole is back on the Derby trail with yet another 2-year-old champion, Forte, who is poised to make his highly-anticipated 3-year-old debut in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Repole co-owns Forte with friend and frequent partner Vinnie Viola of St. Elias Stable.
Pedulla conducted a question-and-answer session with Repole on behalf of America’s Best Racing.
PEDULLA: How is Forte doing?
REPOLE: He’s been doing great. We gave him a little bit of a vacation in Florida. He’s gotten a little bit bigger, a bit wider. You never know what happens when a horse turns from 2 to 3. But, as of today, Todd and I couldn’t be any happier.
PEDULLA: Do you need to win the Fountain of Youth for it to be a successful day?
REPOLE: He lost the second start of his career (Grade 3 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga) and he went on to win three Grade 1s. Of course, you’d love to see him win. But the goal is to get him peaked not for his first race of the year, not his second race of the year but the third in the Kentucky Derby. And then, hopefully, we’re talking Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
PEDULLA: Have you had Derby fever since he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?
REPOLE: I’d really say I’ve had Derby fever since I was 15 years old, to tell you the truth.
PEDULLA: Will you always feel that the Uncle Mo Derby was one that got away?
REPOLE: The dream of having a horse in the Derby was one in a million, especially a kid from Queens. What people forget is I scratched the Derby favorite, Uncle Mo, but I still had Stay Thirsty in the race. And how many people can say they scratched the Derby favorite in their first Derby but still had a horse in the race.
PEDULLA: Was your one-two finish in last year’s Belmont Stakes your greatest moment?
REPOLE: I’ve been so blessed over the last 12 years to have some of the best horses in the country, colts and fillies. The dream, being a kid from New York, was always to win the Belmont Stakes. I don’t think I ever dreamed of coming first and second in the Belmont Stakes like that happened. To see Mo Donegal get the lead and then to see Nest coming behind him, there was a moment maybe for an eighth of a mile that I wasn’t sure whether it was Mo Donegal or Nest that was going to win. But I knew it was going to be a Repole Stable horse and that made it super-special.
PEDULLA: You are partners with Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable on Forte. You have partnered before. Why does that partnership work well for both of you?
REPOLE: I think we share a lot of the same values, whether it’s family, whether it’s horse racing. We’re both Italian cultures. We’ve gone from partners to friends to family. I think when you win a race with Teresa and Vinnie and I have Maria and my parents, it just makes it more special. I have a saying, “Success is best when shared.”
PEDULLA: We don’t always see the loyalty that you’ve shown to Todd. Why do you remain so loyal?
REPOLE: Because he’s a friend and family member first and he’s more than just a trainer. This started as a business relationship and it’s become a lot bigger. Many times when Todd and I are having conversations, people think we’re talking about horses. That’s probably the least thing we’re talking about nowadays. When we’re together with families, we never talk about horses. I think Todd uses it to his advantage because it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses. He knows he’s got a job for life with me. There is nobody more focused. There is nobody more determined. I respect his work ethic, second to none.
PEDULLA: What would it mean if you could win the Derby?
REPOLE: It’s hard for me to go there. Being a kid from Queens with immigrant parents, I’ve been so blessed to win so many incredible things in my life, in business, in racing, having my daughter. Listen, it’s something I’ve always dreamed about. It’s something I’ve always thought about. I’ve been to seven Derbys. We’ve celebrated 19th-place finishes, 17th-place finishes, 13th-place finishes. We’ve had a lot of fun and we’re blessed. It would be special, but just being in the Derby is a very special thing that very few people can talk about. I’m 0-for-7. Usually, you wouldn’t brag about being 0-for-7. But being in seven Derbys is pretty special.