LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Mike Repole is one of New York's biggest horse owners. But this week the colorful self-made, really-rich guy says he has just one horse, Wood Memorial winner Outwork, who will run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
When his racing manager tries to update Repole about his other horses, the owner said he responds, "There's no other horse, no other race until 7 p.m. Saturday."
But there is one horse that Repole relishes discussing more than Outwork. That's his sire, Uncle Mo, the unbeaten 2-year-old champion of 2010 who was scratched the day before the 2011 Kentucky Derby with a mysterious liver ailment. Like Uncle Mo, Outwork is trained by record-setting Todd Pletcher.
Uncle Mo came to Churchill Downs off the first defeat in his career when he ran third in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial, which some took as an indication that he didn't want to race that far. Outwork also came to town with only one defeat, but it was a length defeat in only his third start when he ran second to stablemate Destin in the Tampa Bay Derby. He won the Wood a month later.
Uncle Mo's 3-year-old season might have been compromised, but he's back in the spotlight as a stallion at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Woodford County. Last year's leading first-crop sire, Uncle Mo has three sons in Kentucky Derby 142, including unbeaten 2-year-old champion in Nyquist and Mo Tom.
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That trio puts Uncle Mo in a lofty level with the venerable stallion Tapit, who has sons Creator, Mohaymen and Lani in the Derby.
"It was great coming in with Uncle Mo," Repole said Wednesday morning on the Churchill Downs backstretch. "The week didn't turn out the way we thought it would, so it was a little more stressful. It was a dream, my first Derby, to be here. I was also here with Stay Thirsty, so I had two horses in the Derby. Then Uncle Mo had the Wood Memorial loss. And Stay Thirsty, I mean, he just finished the Florida Derby now, so he had a bad performance in the Florida Derby after winning the Gotham. We had two out of 20 chances.
"Uncle Mo, we knew something had to be wrong, because that performance in the Wood was not Mo-like. We thought he had a stomach virus, and we had him on meds and he was doing well. Once we had to take him off the meds (because too close to the race), that's when he started losing weight and not feeling good and we decided to scratch him. My first Derby experience was not what I would have scripted."
Stay Thirsty finished 12th in the Derby, though he'd go on to take Saratoga's prestigious Travers Stakes. Two years later, Repole was back with Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze, who came in 11th.
Now he's here with a colt by his stallion, in whom Repole kept a "healthy" percentage of ownership.
"Growing up as a kid from Queens, you dream about getting to the Kentucky Derby," he said. "To have three horses in six years in the Kentucky Derby, man, pretty lucky. And I know I'm lucky. Now, I'm really enjoying the moment. There is anxiousness, but it's a lot different from stress and nervousness."
Repole calls Uncle Mo's Breeders' Cup Juvenile "the best win of my life." He calls the Wood triumph at Aqueduct, near where he grew up, "the most special win in my life.
"To do it with a son of Uncle Mo, out of a dam, Nonna Mia, who is named for my grandmother, who will be here and will be 90 years old, and have a 10-month-old daughter, it will be so special. I love that Uncle Mo isn't only a part of this Derby for me personally, but he has three horses out of the 20 and people are talking about him like they did in 2011. On one side, I say we'll never know what would have happened (had Uncle Mo not suffered the liver ailment). On the other side, when you see three horses by him in this Derby, we can pretty much guess what would have happened. I think Uncle Mo would have had an American Pharoah-type season if he'd been as healthy as in his 2-year-old season.
"It's so great to be here and have more people want to talk to me about Uncle Mo than a horse I have in the Derby. I'd have never thought that Uncle Mo would be a better sire than he was a racehorse. But there's no doubt in my mind that he's going to be one of the greatest sires of all-time."
Repole got into racing as a handicapper. Asked how to handicap the horses coming out of the Wood Memorial, in which Outwork beat the maiden Trojan Nation by only a head, he said, "I think the Wood Memorial was a tough race to handicap. Anybody who gives it a (handicapping) number is just flipping a coin. It was a weird track, a wet track, a drying-out track. The racetrack was getting slower as the day went on.
"The only thing I can tell you is that Outwork was out there really, really fast and really early. Every horse had an opportunity to close on him and beat him - and they didn't. I don't think he even liked the track. You guys have watched him train. He seems to be the buzz horse here.
"(Trainer Todd Pletcher) doesn't say much right now. And when Todd doesn't tell me, that means it's good. And he just doesn't want to say anything."