The champion jockey, after posing for his latest in a very long line of Aqueduct winner’s circle shots, made a dash for the jockeys’ room. Ramon Dominguez had another race to ride, after all. The winning owner called the jock, back, though, before he could make it. Mike Repole had one more request for the sterling pilot who’d just won him the Tom Fool Handicap (G3).
“Ramon!” Repole shouted.
The champion jock sprinted back towards the owner.
“Say hi to my grandma.”
From left to right: "Nonna" Repole, Mike
Repole, Ramon Dominguez, Todd Pletcher,
and other assorted members of the
The affable jock happily complied. “Nonna” Repole - as she is affectionately referred to by her doting grandson (nonna means grandmother in Italian) - wore a mile-wide smile on her face, as she received a peck on the cheek from Dominguez. Nonna - 84 years young - was in her glory, soaking up the winner’s circle scene after Calibrachoa captured the Tom Fool in dominant fashion. Her day was already made.
But, really, it had only just begun.
Nonna would make her way back to the winner’s circle a little over two hours later, as Stay Thirsty would go on to capture the Gotham Stakes (G3) for her grandson’s barn, Repole Stable.
For Queens native Mike Repole, Saturday’s Aqueduct triumphs were all about the family. According to a bio issued by his publicist, Repole believes that “success is best when shared.” One would do well not to doubt this statement, given the number of people that the owner brought with him to share in his success on Saturday. The Repole clan was so well represented in the winner’s circle that they made the photographers give thanks for their wide-angle lenses.
Though it was getting cold and the skies were graying rapidly, Repole appeared to want to soak in as much of the post-Gotham atmosphere as he possibly could. This was a special day for the man who - since age 13 - has spent many a winter’s day at the Ozone Park oval. Along with Cigar Mile day and Wood Memorial day, Gotham day is an Aqueduct staple.
In 2011, the record will forever show that it belonged to him.
“It was Mike’s idea to put another horse in the race,” Todd Pletcher - five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer - admitted, in the moments following the Tom Fool. In so doing, one of this country’s finest horsemen gave credit to a relative novice owner - albeit one who has exploded onto the New York and national racing scene.
Calibrachoa’s entry mate in the Tom Fool was a horse called Have You Ever. His job was clear. He was to be on the engine, to ensure an honest pace for the stalking Calibrachoa. Have You Ever did his job, going with the flying Deputy Daney stride for stride through a flying opening quarter that went in 21:4. Deputy Daney was attempting to steal the race on the front end. As the legendary writer Bugs Baer once quipped, Deputy Daney may have “had larceny in his heart. But his feet were honest.”
Deputy Daney still had a five-length lead at the top of the stretch, but Calibrachoa was gaining ground with every stride. He inhaled Deputy Daney shortly past the eighth pole, all while in hand. Dominguez peered over both shoulders confidently. He knew he had the goods. Calibrachoa cruised to the wire, ultimately winning by 4½ lengths, stopping the clock in 1:09.67. He earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
“When I saw (the early fractions) go up, I started walking to the winner’s circle,” proclaimed the winning owner.
Such as statement makes clear the fact that Mike Repole is not for everyone. A fan could be moved to describe the previous statement as confident. A critic, on the other hand, could deem it arrogant. Above all, the statement could probably best be defined as “New York.” The statement, like so much about Mike Repole, is a reflection of his big apple upbringing - an upbringing to which he attributes a great deal of his success.
Whether it was a display of confidence or arrogance, the statement was, above all, prescience. Calibrachoa - whose likely target is the April 9th Carter Handicap, according to Pletcher - couldn’t have done it any easier, putting the first one in the win column for Team Repole.
The next one, though, was the one they truly came to see. Stay Thirsty, a three year-old son of Bernardini, had spent the better part of the past year living in the physical and proverbial shadow of stable mate Uncle Mo. In the Repole/Pletcher barn, Stay Thirsty has always been the “other’ three year-old colt. His works, in company with Uncle Mo, have been setup to that runner’s benefit. Uncle Mo has garnered the majority of the attention and the accolades. Of course, he’s also far more accomplished.
On Saturday, though, Stay Thirsty finally emerged - if only somewhat - from Uncle Mo’s imposing shadow.
Stay Thirsty’s 1 1/16 mile journey began adventurously, as he broke a step slowly, then got caught 3-wide around the first turn. Dominguez got Stay Thirsty to settle down, though, during the middle portion of the race. He got a good, stalking trip, sitting just three lengths off of pacesetter The Fed Eased at the half-mile pole. He began to make his move as they rounded the far turn, finally tackling The Fed Eased and eventual runner-up Norman Asbjornson just past the top of the stretch. The rider of the latter lodged a claim of foul for some mild bumping. It was ultimately disallowed. Stay Thirsty’s win stood.
The final time of the race was 1:44.78. Stay Thirsty was given a Beyer of 89. While neither the time, nor the Beyer were eye-catching, the performance itself suggests some room for improvement and optimism going forward. There was, after all, the slow start and the wide early trip to consider. Also, Stay Thirsty switched leads three times in the stretch. The colt displayed considerable talent on Saturday, but also some measure of greenness.
Understandably, Mike Repole chose to ignore the greenness and immaturity, and focus strictly on the talent in his post-race comments.
“I couldn’t be any happier for this horse, because I keep hearing about ‘Mo’s shadow’ and ‘stablemate’ and (Stay Thirsty) is one of the top six 3-year-olds in the country,” a jubilant Repole told reporters minutes after the Gotham. “Today is all about Stay Thirsty and I think he proved that when you get away from Boys At Tosconova (to whom Stay Thirsty finished second in last year’s Hopeful Stakes) and you get away from Uncle Mo, this is a pretty special horse.”
Repole can be forgiven for not discussing the specifics of the metric he used to reach the highly-subjective - yet definitively stated - conclusion that Stay Thirsty belongs on a list of the best half-dozen three year-olds in training. It is wholly understandable for a man who spent his formative years as an Aqueduct railbird to be overcome with emotion and make bold statements while standing in the winner’s circle on one of the track’s biggest days.
The day appeared to be taking its toll on Nonna Repole, who made her way gingerly around the paddock with the help of a cane. Still, she appeared to enjoy her grandson’s Gotham conquest even more than the Tom Fool before it. Donned in a Repole Stable baseball cap, she took her rightful place front and center in the winner’s circle.
The newly minted King of Queens wouldn’t have it any other way.