Archive for Mike Repole

Flay, Repole and Plank Show It’s Hip To Own A Horse

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Case Clay of The New York Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

A Toast to Horse Racing, With a Classic Twist

Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant had more than one thing in common. They were not only entertainers, but they were horse racing enthusiasts, fans and owners. As a 37 year old who has grown up in the horse industry, I often hear folks talk about the “good old days” and how these three men created a great allure to horse racing, making it hip to own a horse.

When I hear this sort of chatter the next time, I will let the folks know there is a chance for “good new days” ahead.

On Saturday at Belmont Park, hours before the third leg of the Triple Crown, the modern-day, business version of the Crosby/Astaire/Grant trio got together for the first time in the same room and shared a drink. I got the feeling it won’t be the last. Three young horse owners, the celebrity chef Bobby Flay (age 46), the Under Armour founder and chief executive Kevin Plank (age 38) and the co-founder of Vitaminwater Mike Repole (age 42), are the new faces of horse racing, and it’s quite refreshing.

Each of the entrepreneurs is fun and engaging, each has earned a coveted Breeders’ Cup victory, each has built internationally recognized brands, but most importantly, they share a genuine passion for horse racing as a sport and will do whatever it takes to let people know that if you don’t own a racehorse, you’re missing an unbelievable opportunity.

“We love to promote,” Plank said, “and the three of us are getting together and saying ‘We want other people to take interest in this game that was once the most popular sport in America and say, ‘Why not again?’”

Individually, their intensity and enthusiasm is infectious, but together, when discussing horse racing, their enthusiasm rises to another level, and their love of horse racing is off the charts.

“It’s an unbelievable game,” Plank said. “There’s nothing like watching the horses coming down the stretch and crossing the finish line. And no matter what the odds, short or long, the winning is contagious and the beauty of the horse is something you can’t express. It is the prettiest thing I have ever dealt with in my life.”

The nice thing about Repole, Flay and Plank is they don’t take themselves too seriously either. As the discussion continues, I’m imagining Crosby, Astaire and Grant doing the same thing years ago, as these three gentlemen playfully weave verbal pokes back and forth to one another in jest as if they have known each other forever. They quickly maneuver between seriously passionate and hilarious zingers, which become fun to watch.

Repole and Plank, who had Stay Thirsty and Monzon, respectively, in the Belmont Stakes, asked Flay which horse would win the Belmont, each giving him a look that their horse better be mentioned. Without missing a beat, Flay smiled and said, “Santiva, definitely,” which immediately earned the payoff laugh from the other two guys.

Flay then switches back to serious and answers my question about what it was like to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with his filly, More Than Real.

“I’ve probably watched the race replay 300 times,” Flay said. “Actually I watched the replay this morning. I had about 12 people over to my house for brunch and we showed it to the guests. Somebody at the table said, ‘You can’t bottle that feeling.’ He’s right, you can’t bottle it. For me, it didn’t feel real, so I always have to watch the replay to make sure it actually happened.”

Repole comes back right on cue, “You had 12 people over for brunch, and we weren’t invited? Kevin, do you believe that?”

Plank responds, “Bobby, are you a cook or something?”

Repole pulls it right back to the passion and what he loves about horse racing. “This is what racing is about,” Repole says as he points to his 80 friends and family gathered at tables behind him. This is a celebration today,” he continues. “Whether my horse comes in 1st or 12th, it doesn’t matter. This is what racing can be about. You can come here and have a great time, spend $200, get something to eat, and possibly walk out of here with a thousand dollars. You go to a great restaurant with $200, and you’re not coming out with possibly more money in your pocket, especially if it’s one of Bobby’s restaurants!”

Flay laughs.

While they are riffing, I can see their minds moving, using what made their businesses successful to promote horse racing.

“For young guys in horse racing, the luck we have is more like a naiveté, which I promote more than anything,” Plank says. “Don’t tell me what can’t happen or what has to happen. Hopefully we can pick up a lot of trophies and have other people say, ‘I’d like to do that, too.’”

Plank, Flay and Repole were all underdogs at one point in their self-made lives. When you talk to them, you get the sense that they embrace the challenge of promoting a sport, which, like any sport (disputes and lockout discussions in the N.F.L. and N.B.A.) has its challenges; and will not let horse racing go away on their watch.

“It’s too important to let it go away,” Flay says. “We’re doing our best in this game, and we want this game to be the best it can be.”

These guys are winners and their attitudes are contagious, which is a good combination for horse racing.

“We wouldn’t have gotten into it if we thought it was going to lose,” Plank adds.

Repole, Plank and Flay don’t know what the future holds, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from dreaming. On Saturday, Flay’s filly ran a solid third in the Grade I Acorn, and he’s off to Royal Ascot to watch his Breeders’ Cup winning filly run. Repole’s horses ran third in the Grade II True North Handicap and second in the Belmont Stakes. And although Plank’s underdog didn’t take the Belmont this year, don’t bet against his long shots (his Breeders’ Cup winner was 46-1).

In the Crosby, Astaire, Grant days, it was hip to own a horse. Thanks to Bobby Flay, Mike Repole and Kevin Plank, it’s getting hip again.



Disclosure In Horse Racing: How Much Does The Horseplayer Deserve To Know???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Does Racing Need Mo Disclosure?

Mike Repole’s Uncle Mo arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday, still dogged by questions about his first career defeat in the Wood Memorial on April 9. Last year’s 2-year-old champion had no response when challenged in the final furlong of the Wood, finishing third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Toby’s Corner.

Some questions have gone beyond Uncle Mo’s performance, dealing with more philosophical questions about transparency in the area of veterinary medicine and racehorses.

For example, more than a few observers wondered about that freshly shaved rectangular patch below Uncle Mo’s right knee. Could it be a splint bone issue, a skin problem, or was the area ultrasounded for diagnosis only?

Others noticed markings on both of Uncle Mo’s shins indicating pinfiring, something that could have occurred many months ago. And then there was what appeared to be a right hind foot with an Equilox patch, a remedy that could indicate the need for reinforcement due to a quarter crack, bad hoof walls, or simply a complication from shoeing.

We don’t know, and probably never will.

The real question is whether or not it’s anyone’s business other than the owner of the horse.

It is the prevailing philosophy in American racing, as well as in the breeding and auction arena, that such information is private. Disclosure seems to be a dirty word in this business, whether it’s surgeries on racehorses, leg-straightening procedures on foals who will later be offered at weanling, yearling and 2-year-old sales, or medications given to horses before auctions or races.

Is there a connection between this veil of secrecy and the growing distrust and skepticism consumers seem to be exhibiting about the Thoroughbred industry? Or is this much adieu about nothing?

For their part, owner Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher have practiced partial disclosure. Following Uncle Mo’s defeat, they issued a statement saying the colt came out of the Wood Memorial with a gastrointestinal tract infection. The disclosure of the infection was preceded by this comment from Pletcher: “Although it is not my standard practice to share a horse’s examination results with anyone other than the owner, I feel that Uncle Mo’s disappointing performance in the Wood Memorial warrants an explanation.”

Their explanation for Uncle Mo’s performance didn’t include a treatment plan. Would he be given therapeutic medication, a special diet, or perhaps spend some time at a clinic with a hyperbaric (oxygen) chamber?

Again, is it any of our business?

That depends. Mike Repole owns the horse and pays the bills to take care of him. But many of the people who bet on horse racing believe they have a right to know what kind of injuries a horse may have had, what veterinary procedures that horse has undergone, and what medications he may be receiving.

Repole is a horseplayer. If he had no connection to Uncle Mo, do you think he might be curious to know about that shaved area on the right foreleg before he made a bet on the Wood? If he was playing the Derby Futures Wager, and there was widespread talk among racetrack veterinarians that Uncle Mo may have had a chip removed from his knee after the Breeders’ Cup in November, is that something Repole the horseplayer would be interested in knowing?

There are veterinary-client privilege laws throughout the United States, but horse racing is a highly regulated, government controlled industry. Many states require disclosure of information regarding the gelding of a horse or what raceday medications a horse receives. The long arm of regulations could be expanded.

Complete disclosure is practiced in what many consider the world’s most successful racing program in Hong Kong. Surgeries, lameness diagnoses and medications are fully disclosed and available to the public at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s website. In my opinion, that kind of disclosure builds confidence in the wagering public.

Here’s an example: Sacred Kingdom, the 2010 Hong Kong Horse of the Year, had colic surgery last March and was diagnosed as lame on three different occasions. (Click here to read his veterinary report.) That kind of information is available on every horse stabled at an HKJC track.

In addition, horseplayers in Hong Kong are provided complete information on every horse competing in advance of each racing program. For example, click here for a look at tomorrow night’s starters in the seventh race at Happy Valley.

“We have complied and published records on our official website for about 10 years,” said Bill Nader, the former New York Racing Association executive who now serves as the executive director of racing for the HKJC. “The Jockey Club website is content rich, embraces transparency and our customers have come to expect the highest standard of information delivery. So, it is all good.”

Nader acknowledges that it’s a lot easier to practice complete disclosure under Hong Kong’s controlled environment.

“The built-in advantage here,” he said, “is a captive horse population as only nine of our races are truly open to outsiders, the rest are for horses stabled at Sha Tin. Also, all vets are employed by the Jockey Club.

“Customer experience is the one thing that nearly every industry must respect and horse racing is no exception,” Nader added. “Reporting veterinary findings, whether on an odds-on favorite that has run poorly or any horse whether it be in a Class 5 or a Group 1, is good customer service. If a horse bleeds or suffers from a heart irregularity, we will announce it over our public-address system within an hour after the race. We strive to present the best racing and betting product in the world and, by doing so, we are meeting customer expectations. The fundamentals required to do this are quality racing, big betting pools that offer high liquidity, competitive racing with regard to runners per race (12.5) and integrity. Through greater transparency, we only take integrity to a higher level.”

Average daily pari-mutuel handle on each of Hong Kong’s 83 racing programs is US$123 million and growing (that’s more than was wagered in the pari-mutuel pools on the 2010 Kentucky Derby).

They must be doing something right.


Mike Repole Embodies What Is “Good For The Game”

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Finley of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Be Like Mike

I never really believed much in the idea that something can be “good for the game.” If a horse were to win a Triple Crown there would still be 3,009 people at Belmont the following Wednesday. As marvelous as she was, Zenyatta’s exploits have done nothing to save California racing from getting off to a miserable start in 2011. Few things in the sport, no matter how great or marvelous they may be, seem to have much of a carryover effect.

But in Uncle Mo and his owner Mike Repole, we may actually have something that is “good for the game,” something that could help lift horse racing out of its ongoing malaise. That’s what makes them so easy to root for.

There’s no doubt that should Uncle Mo sweep Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont he will create the sort of excitement that racing hasn’t seen in more than 30 years and put 100,000-plus people in the seats at Belmont come June 11. But as great as Uncle Mo appears to be, it is Repole that might just do more for the sport than anyone has in a long time.

If Uncle Mo gets to the Belmont Stakes undefeated, Repole, who doesn’t shy away from publicity, is going to become the face of racing, and that would be a good thing. Not only is he a terrific representative of the sport, he leads by example and maybe he can chip away at some of the mindsets that have been so counterproductive to the game’s overall well being.

Repole, more so than any one else, puts the sport first, which makes him a breath of fresh air in an era when self-interests almost always prevail.

That’s why he has already announced that if Uncle Mo stays healthy he will race next year as a 4-year-old. Repole, a very rich guy, gets it that the many millions that Uncle Mo could put in his pocket the minute he stops being a race horse and becomes a sire won’t change his life one bit. He’d much rather enjoy watching the horse race and treating the racing fan to at least one more year of watching this potential superstar on the racetrack. Who knows, maybe Uncle Mo will run at five, maybe six.

That sort of thinking sounds so logical, but very few ever keep their good horses racing a second longer than they have to. Greed wins out just about every time.

For obvious reasons, Repole loves Uncle Mo, but he seems to love all of his horses. Repole always goes the extra mile to make sure that anything that comes into his barn never has to worry about their post-racing careers. He is among the most generous donors in the sport when it comes to thoroughbred rescue charities and he showered an old claimer he owned named Cool N Collective with love and affection when throwing him a retirement party last year at Aqueduct before sending him off to a cushy life.

He does everything he can to help promote the sport. A busy guy, Repole makes himself accessible to the media and is always friendly and upbeat when he does. He is particularly good to New York racing, which is why he told trainer Todd Pletcher that Uncle Mo would go in the Wood Memorial instead of the Florida Derby. Repole wanted to do something for the Big A, the same track where he discovered racing. He grew up in Middle Village, Queens, not far from Aqueduct.

Not that any of this should come as a surprise. Repole is the guy who appears to be too good to be true but apparently isn’t.

The co-founder of Glaceau, the company that makes Vitaminwater and Smartwater, he sold his business to Coca Cola for $4.1 billion. Yet, he is the least pretentious filthy rich person you could ever find. Usually seen in sweatshirts and jeans, he dresses like a kid from Queens that refuses to grow up, which is exactly what he is. He remains loyal to his neighborhood friends, donates millions to charities, calls his parents every day and helps look after an ailing grandmother. We learned from a feature story on Repole in the New York Daily News that he talked his brother into retiring from the police department and helped set him up in the real estate business so that no one would have to worry about his safety.

“I’m not delusional about how lucky I am,” he told the Daily News. “I’m truly blessed. I’m so appreciate of every thing given to me. I’m very fortunate and now I try to give back in as many ways as possible.”

Maybe Repole is just one in a million. Then again, maybe there are others in the sport that will see what he does and how he goes about his business and decide to emulate him. If he can do it, others can. Be like Mike, be “good for the game.”