Home أخبار Favored Fierceness Brings Repole World to the Derby

Favored Fierceness Brings Repole World to the Derby

19
0

The least surprising news surrounding the 150th Kentucky Derby (G1) is that Mike Repole has contrarian thoughts about the conventional wisdom in horse racing.

If you read the Kentucky Media Guide, it shows that the billionaire owner is 0-for-7 in the Kentucky Derby.

But Repole begs to differ.

“I’ve had nine Derby horses, either by myself or with partners,” the 56-year-old self-made businessman said.

How’s that?

Sign up for

“I had seven horses that ran in the Derby and lost and two that were morning-line favorites that were scratched, so I’m 0-for-9, even though I’ve only run seven times,” the Queens, N.Y., native said. “To me, when you scratch the morning-line favorite for the Derby, it’s a loss.”

Welcome to Repole World.

When last seen a year ago at the 149th Kentucky Derby, Repole was seething over the race day scratch of Forte  , the reigning 2-year-old champion he co-owned with Vinnie Viola of St. Elias Stable, marking the second time in 12 years that Repole’s 2-year-old champion failed to run in the famed opening leg of the Triple Crown after being installed as the morning-line favorite.

“When Forte was scratched, I said, ‘Adversity builds greatness,'” Repole recalled.

Since then, the outspoken Repole has been racing’s No. 1 lightning rod for controversy, engaging in tilts worthy of WrestleMania with regulators, stewards, industry leadership organizations, sales companies, and Internet trolls, just to name a few.

He is also returning to where he left off a year ago.

In the 150th Kentucky Derby, Repole once again has the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby in Repole Stable’s Fierceness , a 3-year-old homebred son of City of Light   who, like Forte last year and Repole’s Uncle Mo   in 2011, is the reigning juvenile male champ. He was set as the 5-2 choice in a field of 20 for the Run for the Roses drawn April 27.

Photo: Coady Media/Renee Torbit

Fierceness and Repole

Can the third time finally be the charm?

“If the third time will be the charm, I don’t know,” Repole said about his three champions, all trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. “Maybe it’s the 10th time or 100th time. Maybe it never happens. The bottom line is that it’s a goal, a dream.”

What may be a dream come true on May 4 at Churchill Downs was a nightmare a year ago when a foot bruise led to regulatory veterinarians scratching Forte hours before America’s most important horse race.

While the circumstances last year were different than in 2011, when a liver ailment prevented Uncle Mo from running, living through that disappointment 12 years later was a stark reminder to Repole of how quickly time passes and how elusive success can be in the Triple Crown.

“It’s like going to a wedding and there’s a 20% chance they are not going to get married,” Repole said. “I felt the disappointment last year for Todd Pletcher, (Forte’s jockey) Irad Ortiz Jr., and my racing team, especially people like Jim Martin (racing manager) who is 75 and Ed Rosen (pedigree adviser) who is 78. My dad is 84 and mom is 78 so if I win the Derby in 20 years, unless dad is 104 and mom 98, they won’t be around.

“It all started in 2010 at Saratoga on Travers Day with a maiden called Uncle Mo. There was a younger Todd Pletcher, a younger Mike Repole, a younger Johnny Velazquez (who rides Fierceness) and now you have an old-timers game here. There are people a lot older in the game than us, but we’ve aged a little bit. I started in my 30s and I’m in my 50s now. Johnny had his kids in the winner’s circle with Uncle Mo and now they are in college. Todd had kids that are college graduates. My grandmother (who passed away in 2020) used to kiss Johnny on both cheeks because that’s what Italians do. Now we’re back.”

Repole’s hopes of beating Father Time rests with a colt brilliant enough to win by more than a dozen lengths in a grade 1 stakes and perplexing enough to lose by more than 20 lengths in a grade 1 stakes.

In his last start, Fierceness was dynamic, winning the Florida Derby (G1)—a race that has produced a record 25 Kentucky Derby winners —by 13 1/2 lengths, topping his tour de force in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) when he triumphed by 6 1/4 lengths to clinch the 2-year-old championship.

He also won his debut in the mud at Saratoga Race Course by 11 1/4 lengths, giving him three wins in five career starts by a combined margin of 31 lengths. That’s other-worldly numbers when two grade 1s are in the mix, yet Fierceness’ other two starts were polar opposites.

Photo: Mathea Kelley

Fierceness breaks his maiden at Saratoga Race Course

Out of the Stay Thirsty   mare Nonna Bella , Fierceness lost his second start, the Champagne Stakes (G1), in the slop by 20 1/4 lengths leading to his 16-1 odds in the Juvenile. In his 3-year-old debut, he was third in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) by 3 1/2 lengths as a gargantuan 1-5 favorite.

There are numerous words to describe such Jekyll and Hyde behavior, but in Repole’s mind, Fierceness has turned in only one bad race.

“I thought Fierceness ran one bad race in his career and that was the Champagne. He stumbled badly on a muddy track and we didn’t push him for the lead. I think Irad did a great job of realizing we don’t need third in this race and he covered him up,” Repole said. “In the Holy Bull, normally Todd has his horses all geared up. They look so pretty, they look so good. They are so tight. I am not saying we gave him a race in the Holy Bull, but it was three months after the Juvenile. Did I expect to win? Yes. Did I expect him to win by 13? No. But he gets pinballed left and right and comes up wide while they are going slow and he was rated. I don’t think it’s a bad race when you haven’t run in three months, you get pinballed, you run wide against a slow pace and lose by 3 1/2 lengths. But because he’s the 2-year-old champ, I think the Holy Bull has been exaggerated.”

Whether he’s 0-for-7 or 0-for-9, Repole is quick to admit that with a small army of family and friends on hand on the first Saturday in May, it would be truly special to add a Kentucky Derby victory to a list of accomplishments that include wins in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and more than $52 million in earnings from horses solely owned by him.

“I enjoy watching success through other people’s eyes and having family and friends there with me. If we win it will be great and if we lose it will be great,” he said. “Though I guess one would be greater than the other. Some might say it’s stress, but it’s not real-life stress. It’s just pressure.”

Repole also knows that Fierceness represents his best chance to win the mile-and-a-quarter classic after seven tries with Mo Donegal  ‘s fifth in 2022 the best result.

“Look at the way he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby. Look at those races and the numbers on any metrics or speed figure service. It’s off the chart. It’s all great,” said Repole, who bought a 10% share of City of Light’s stallion career that led to Fierceness’ breeding because the horse was trained by former Pletcher assistant Michael McCarthy. “After the Florida Derby, I asked Johnny what he had left and he said, ‘I don’t know but I didn’t use it all.'”

Pletcher has won the Derby twice from a record 64 starters, yet Fierceness seems destined to be only his second post-time favorite and perhaps the best of all those hopefuls.

“He’s definitely the most talented colt going into the race,” Pletcher said. “If he can work out the trip we want, we’ll be in good shape. What he did in the Florida Derby was brilliant.”

For Repole, the scratch of Forte ushered in a tumultuous period in his life at the racetrack that continues to this day.

Photo: Skip Dickstein

Repole with Forte at Churchill Downs ahead of the 2023 Kentucky Derby

Five days after Forte was scratched from the Kentucky Derby, a ruling was announced that the colt was disqualified from a victory in the 2022 Hopeful Stakes (G1) after testing positive for the anti-inflammatory nonsteroidal meloxicam. Repole and Pletcher are still contesting that disqualification and the associated sanctions.

Prior to Forte’s second-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, Repole was already speaking out and criticizing major leadership groups in the industry, including The Jockey Club, which owns BloodHorse through The Jockey Club Information Services.

To end that, in late October he announced his creation of the National Thoroughbred Alliance and subsequently named himself as its commissioner.

Since then, he has met with scores of horsemen and industry leaders and has spoken out loudly, especially on social media, about what he views as sport’s major ills.

“I think I have proved so many people are extremely selfish in this game. They all want 90% of the game fixed but not the 10% that impacts them,” he said. “These guys have real businesses and they don’t want a fight in horse racing. They want to go to the track with family and friends and don’t want to be bothered with the junk going on.”

Few would argue that Repole has become one of the sport’s loudest voices.

“I’ve taken the role,” he said. “Hell with everyone. I am going to speak out. Do I think there has been a massive difference? No. Has there been massive conversation? Yes. Are people speaking out more? Yes.”

Some of the main issues Repole has railed against, aside from his claims that the sport is “broken” due to poor leadership at the very top of it, are the inner workings of 2-year-old sales. He has also advocated for increased funding for Thoroughbred aftercare programs.

“The end user has been getting screwed,” Repole said. “By the time some young horses get to a trainer, they have probably had some form of corrective surgery. They went to a yearling sale and wound up with a pinhooker who tried to get him to walk like a show horse. They buy the horse for $70,000 and they do whatever it takes to get him to run a furlong in nine seconds and change at a 2-year-old sale so they can get $700,000 for him. By then the trainer gets a horse with three legs. Fierceness is the healthiest horse we have because he was a homebred. Nothing was ever done to him.”

At the behest of a follower on X, Repole said he would not bid on any of the horses that breezed before the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, focusing solely on juveniles that merely galloped.

Repole has also bristled at resistance over fees to fund aftercare programs.

“If anyone does not like the idea of paying a small fee for aftercare on the purchase of a million-dollar horse, they should get out of the sport,” he said. “We don’t need them.”

The combative Repole has also turned his Repole Stable account on X into a forum for his ideas and a battleground for critics. Handling the account himself, Repole is not much different from many racing accounts on X with strong opinions and snarky answers. The only difference is that the people having shade tossed at them are getting that treatment from a billionaire, not a nameless, pictureless unknown.

Seven months into his campaign, while some people and leaders have vehemently disagreed with Repole, some of his words have resonated with horsemen and fans. Yet many of the people in the industry who agree with him privately wonder if he needs to be less aggressive and more political to sway opinions and enact change.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Mike Repole

Pletcher, who has been training for Repole for 15 years and has become a close friend, said people need to focus more on Repole’s message as opposed to his delivery.

“Mike is the kind of guy that is very passionate and when he’s passionate about something he wants to make changes and have a positive impact. Some people have been critical of him, saying he has been negative in some of the ways he has approached it,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “But while they may not like his approach, I don’t think too many people disagree with what he’s saying. His way of going about it might not be the most politically correct way, but that’s what makes Mike Mike. A lot of people are concerned about their public image, he’s not. He doesn’t mind being the bad guy, if that’s what it takes to make change happen. In the last year he’s been much more vocal about leadership and the lack thereof it in the industry and we’ll see if there can be positive change.

“Everything he’s doing is with good intentions.”

So, as the Run for the Roses draws closer, the race has a favorite in Fierceness who has the potential to do something magical on the racetrack.

It also has an owner of that 3-year-old who will speak with passion about his horse and fiercely defend his views of what needs to be changed in the sport—even if they anger people or are decried.

There are surely critics of both horse and owner out there, but do not expect that to faze or quiet Mike Repole.

Welcome to the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Welcome to Repole World.

مصدر

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here