It was 12 years ago in the state of Kentucky that Mike Repole became much more than “Mike from Queens” in the world of Thoroughbred racing.
Oh, he still bought some claimers and strived to become the leading owner at Saratoga Race Course. But on a 2010 fall afternoon at Churchill Downs, in one fell swoop, he became Mike Repole, owner of Uncle Mo , winner of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), champion 2-year-old, and Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite.
Though he has become a prized stallion, Uncle Mo became sick in the spring of his 3-year-old year and never made it to the Triple Crown for trainer Todd Pletcher, a part of Repole’s history in racing that he just might re-write this spring.
The charismatic owner savored victory in the $2 million FanDuel BC Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance for a second time Nov. 4 when Forte followed in Uncle Mo’s illustrious footsteps and recorded a convincing 1 1/2-length victory over heavily favored and previously undefeated Cave Rock for Repole, Pletcher, and Repole’s close friend and racing partner, Vinnie Viola of St. Elias Stable.
“It goes full circle for me,” Repole said after the victory by the 2-year-old son of Violence at Keeneland. “It started here for me 12 years ago with my 93-year-old grandmother who passed away about 2 1/2 years ago … and it carries on with my daughter Gioia, who wasn’t even born then.”
Mike Repole hoists the Breeders’ Cup trophy with Maria Repole and Gioia Repole to his right in the winner’s circle
The victory can be seen as a reward for at least 150 yearlings Repole and Viola have bought in the last few years. But when Repole reflects on capturing eight grade 1 wins since June, including a 1-2 finish in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) with Mo Donegal and the filly Nest (who runs Saturday in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, G1), he views it as a blessing.
“It don’t know if it’s a reward. It’s a blessing,” Repole said. “I’m so happy for (everyone). We have a great team and so many great family and friends. We’ve won eight grade 1s since June. Some people don’t win one in a lifetime.”
One race that has eluded Repole, but not Viola, is the Kentucky Derby. Viola, who missed the Juvenile due to back surgery, was a part owner of 2017 Run for the Roses winner Always Dreaming . Now he and his buddy Repole own the early favorite for the opening leg of the Triple Crown in Forte, who picked up 30 qualifying points toward a start in in the Kentucky Derby through his Juvenile victory and now has a total of 40.
“We’ve won so many special races. Three Breeders’ Cups. I can’t tell I wouldn’t want to win the Kentucky Derby. I’d love to, but I’ve done so many good things in racing I’d be happy if someone else wins it,” Repole said.
Forte is on the muscle in the paddock before the Juvenile
The decision that set in motion Saturday’s win came when the connections decided to head to Keeneland for Forte’s final BC prep. After winning the Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, the one-turn mile Champagne Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack seemed a viable option. But in the end, the choice became the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, which gave Forte a race over the track, experience at the two-turn 1 1/16-mile distance of the Juvenile, and a tough fight to beat Loggins by a neck for his third win in four starts.
“We came here to win this race,” Repole said. “That was the whole plan. Get a race over the track. Get him in a battle. Get him here. We made the right decision and though sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, we’re not afraid of trying to get one step ahead.”
Bred by South Gate Farm, Forte is the first foal from the Blame mare Queen Caroline, who also has a yearling full brother to the Juvenile winner. Forte was sold for $110,000 from the Eaton Sales consignment at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and has now earned $1,595.150.
Forte (outside) makes his move around the final turn
A quick pace certainly helped Forte’s chances of rallying from fifth under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. As expected, Michael Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman’s Cave Rock rushed out for the early lead, but the 1-2 favorite trained by Bob Baffert was joined by 70-1 longshot Hurricane J through an opening half-mile in a demanding :22.90. After a half-mile in :47.01, Cave Rock and jockey Juan Hernandez kicked clear on the turn, only to find Forte swinging outside of them and gobbling up ground.
“On the turn I felt really good because when I asked him to run, he responded and picked it up really well. But the horse outside of me was moving better than me,” Hernandez said.
Though Cave Rock, a son of Arrogate , was still ahead by 1 1/2 lengths at the eight pole, Forte ($12.04), the 5-1 second choice, motored past him leaving the sixteenth pole and crossed the wire in 1:43.06 for Pletcher’s third Juvenile win.
“Obviously delighted with everything,” Pletcher said. “He got a beautiful trip. Just kept coming.”
Forte strides out to the wire
Baffert wound up with a 2-3 finish as Cave Rock came home 2 1/4 lengths ahead of stablemate National Treasure , a Quality Road colt owned by a partnership organized by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, and Madaket Stables. The two Baffert colts had finished 1-2 last month in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
“I think they ran well. They got beat by a good horse but we were in a position to win. At the 2 ½ (pole) I thought I would run 1-2 but they got tired at the end. That’s racing,” Baffert said. “I was afraid of Cave Rock getting hooked up with that speed horse and it took something out of him. We have to get him to relax a bit. Well figure out his style and go from there. National Treasure is one of those horses that in a few months he’ll grow into himself. We’ll freshen them and go forward.”
[image url=”//cms-images.bloodhorse.com/i/bloodhorse-images/2022/11/2a15c20bcc08457aa20f6ed3b37fc3f7.jpg?preset=medium” alt=”Forte with Irad Ortiz Jr wins the Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland in Lexington, KY on November 4, 2022.” credit=”Skip Dickstein”]Forte joins his connections in the winner’s circle