By Steve Sherack
For native New Yorker Mike Repole, it doesn’t get much bigger than the GI Belmont Stakes. Born and raised in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens and a graduate of nearby St. John’s University, Repole will be looking to play the role of spoiler with Vino Rosso (Curlin) and Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy) as the unbeaten ‘TDN Rising Star’ Justify (Scat Daddy) heads to Long Island with a Triple Crown bid on the line. Vino Rosso followed a win in the GII Wood Memorial S. with a ninth-place finish in the GI Kentucky Derby while the narrow GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Noble Indy was 17th on the First Saturday in May. The co-founder of Glaceau (the company was sold to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion in 2007) has campaigned standouts such as champion Uncle Mo, Overanalyze, Outwork, Stopchargingmaria, etc., and came within 3/4 of a length of upsetting the 2011 Belmont with MGISW Stay Thirsty.
Q: You’ve always made it very well-known that the Belmont S. is at the top of your list of races that you really want to win. What would a victory in the third leg of the Triple Crown mean to you?
MR: Listen, I’ve never made it a secret how important the Belmont is to me. That’s the one race, growing up, and especially once I became an owner, that I’ve always said that I wanted to win. When my team is out there looking at horses, whether it’s a 2-year-old sale or at the yearling sales at Keeneland, I’m always asking the question, ‘Can they get the mile and a half?’
It’s definitely the first time any of these 3-year-olds will ever run that distance and most likely the last time, too. It’s a very funny race. Just being a kid from Queens and going to Aqueduct and Belmont and never even being able to make it up to Saratoga because I don’t think I had a car that could go that far growing up, it was the race.
Being in the Kentucky Derby now four times in the last eight years is special. Trust me, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I won the Kentucky Derby. But if I could choose between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont S., I’ve said numerous times, I would take the Belmont.
Q: Is playing the role of spoiler and potentially silencing the capacity crowd at Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line something you embrace?
MR: Just to be in the race is amazing and I’m going to have two shots. It’s exciting. Usually the Derby is the biggest stage, but when you have a Triple Crown on the line, it becomes the Belmont.
I was rooting for Justify in the Preakness. I knew that if he won, the Belmont would be seen by probably 20-25 million people and we would have 90,000 people there with the attendance capped. If he lost the Preakness, they would probably get 40,000-45,000. So I was rooting for Justify, there was no doubt about it.
Q: What have you thought of Justify’s unprecedented run this spring?
MR: He’s amazing. He checks every single box out there and is undefeated. Probably one of the greatest 3-year-olds of all time, no doubt, win or lose this race. What he’s done in the last 12 weeks has been amazing. He’s the Golden State Warriors and Lebron [James] or someone else will be trying to take him down. He’s had a lot of races in a short period and he’s done everything right.
Q: Partnerships between high-profile owners continue to become increasingly popular. You own Vino Rosso with Vinnie Viola of St. Elias Stable and you also campaign Noble Indy with Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm. Thoughts on this trend?
MR: At the beginning, I kind of fought against it, but with the right partner, I think it works out perfectly. I think there’s a really cool aspect of it where some of the biggest owners with the biggest money in the sport are getting together and becoming partners.
I’m very blessed where I get to choose partners like WinStar, where two of my stallions Outwork and Overanalyze stand, my foals are born, and have 60-65 horses on the farm.
I’ve known Vinnie for six or seven years now. My wife grew up in Brooklyn, Vinnie grew up in Brooklyn. His wife grew up in Queens, I grew up in Queens. I love his story, and he loves mine. We’re all about family first and big, Italian families. Winning the Wood with Vinnie was probably one of the best wins I’ve ever had. It was so awesome having both of our families there. After the race we went back to my house with about 60 other people and we drank a lot of Vino Rosso and had a good time.
Q: Vino Rosso is certainly bred for a race like this and has always been held in high regard by trainer Todd Pletcher. Between the wide trip and off going in the Derby, a case can be made for him as a potential upsetter in the Belmont. What’s your confidence level like heading into the race?
MR: There’s no doubt that he has the talent to win this race along with his incredible pedigree to get the distance. His dam Mythical Bride is a half to Commissioner, who barely lost the Belmont and his sire Curlin also lost a photo to Rags to Riches in the Belmont. He’s bred to go two miles, never mind a mile and a half. He’s a horse that’s going to go at one pace and I think that last quarter of a mile, he might be going two seconds faster than everybody else and just grind it out.
Noble Indy is going to have Javier [Castellano] aboard and Vino Rosso will have Johnny [Velazquez]. To have two chances at the Belmont with two great partners and both trained by Todd Pletcher, I really like my chances.
Q: Even going back to your early days as a racing fan, any Belmont S. memories that stick out to you?
MR: When I was younger, I was awed by Easy Goer. That was really big. Bet Twice dethroning Alysheba–I was probably 17-18 years old when that happened. More recently and even going back 10 years, being there and watching Da’ Tara upset Big Brown. There have been some great moments and just being a part of it-and probably not until the Big Brown one-I was lucky to just be in the grandstand or in the backyard with a bunch of friends.
When one of my horses has a race, I’m there as a fan, too. I’m always going to be Mike from Queens. You’re not going to change me. Whether it’s Aqueduct on a Wednesday or Belmont on a Saturday, you won’t see me in the Trustee’s Room with a jacket and tie. It’s who am I and where I come from. To be able to be in a position to win a race like this, I’ve been so blessed.
Q: Stay Thirsty gave you a huge run finishing second at 16-1 in the Belmont seven years ago. Can you reflect on his performance and that experience?
MR: Coming in second with Stay Thirsty was probably one of my biggest racing accomplishments and also probably one of the worst losses of my life. My wife jokes that I didn’t come out of my basement for two weeks. It was tough because you don’t know how many chances you’ll ever get to be in the race again. I don’t come in here thinking that I’m definitely going to win. I’m coming in here wanting to win, but not everybody in life gets what they want.
Q: Are your Belmont S. day plans set yet? How big of an entourage will you have with you at the races this year?
MR: I was smart enough to book for 75 people-friends and family–before the Triple Crown was on the line. If it wasn’t a Triple Crown, it probably would’ve been 200. As much as NYRA loves me, and I love them–they treat me really well–75 was the max that they felt comfortable with.
Q: With your blue-and-orange stable colors a tribute to the New York Mets, how excited are you about the draw coming to Citi Field Tuesday? Bob Baffert is also expected to throw out the first pitch at that night’s game.
MR: My silks are blue and orange after the Mets, so it’s kind of ironic that the draw this year coincidentally happens to be at Citi Field and my silks will be represented in the Belmont S. I think it’s a pretty cool experience. My 91-year-old grandmother and my 2-year-old daughter will be there. We’re excited.
Q: Any restaurant recommendations for people coming into town for the Belmont? Do you have a favorite spot that you like to go to after a big day at the races?
MR: I’m gonna go three Italian, Queens restaurants–Barosa, Park Side and Piccola Venezia. And if you want some Long Island recommendations–Chris and Tony’s, Rare 650 and Rothmann’s Steakhouse. Three in Queens and three on Long Island. Nobody’s going to be disappointed. If they are, tell them to bill me!