Mike Repole waited for the New York Mets to offer him a job as general manager after he graduated with a degree in sports management from St. John’s University in 1991.
“No one called,” the Queens, New York, native said. “I was very disappointed.”
Repole, 41, went on to co-found Glaceau Vitaminwater sports drink in 1996, which Coca-Cola Co. bought for $4.1 billion three years ago. Then he started purchasing race horses, and now he has two of the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race tomorrow at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Both will be wearing his stable’s colors -- orange and blue, just like the Mets.
“Of 30,000 foals born in a year, I have two of the top-10 colts,” he said in a telephone interview from New York.
This weekend, Uncle Mo goes off as the 7-5 favorite in the $2 million Juvenile, the 10th of 14 races in the two-day Breeders’ Cup Championships. The Juvenile, a 1 1/16-mile race, introduces some of the top colts in the world who will enter the Triple Crown series in 2011 as 3-year-olds.
The Breeders’ Cup is the richest two-day sporting event in the world, with $26 million in purses, according to Greg Avioli, chief executive officer of the Breeders’ Cup.
Zenyatta, the undefeated 6-year-old mare who is seeking her record 20th consecutive win, is headlining the Breeders’ Cup as she defends her title against 11 male contenders in the Classic. The winner of the 1 1/4-mile race often is named Horse of the Year, a title that eluded Zenyatta when Preakness Stakes champion Rachel Alexandra was given the honor in 2009.
$10 Million Colt
Uncle Mo, the 2-year-old colt Repole bought for $220,000, is valued today at more than $10 million, he said. It also is the top prospect in early wagering in Las Vegas to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby in May. His other colt in the Juvenile, Stay Thirsty, is co-third-favorite at 8-1.
Repole grew up the son of a waiter and a seamstress and started going to Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens at the age of 13. Sometimes cutting classes, he would take $20 and find someone at the track to bet $2 on each race for him.
Learning to read the racing form created a foundation for his future as a successful entrepreneur, he said.
“It really is the way I think in business,” the Long Island, New York, resident said. “It was a great thinking experience predicting the future -- a visionary exercise. It wasn’t about money; it was more about being right.”
After selling his stake in Vitaminwater, he had the means to pursue his thoroughbred racing passion.
“I loved sports and I loved money,” he said. “But I needed to put my training wheels on first.”
As Repole’s stable of horses began running, he had “the most depressing five weeks of my racing life” last year when he went 0-36 at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga, New York. At the same time, he led all New York horse owners with 51 wins. Yet losing at Saratoga bothered him the most.
“I didn’t sleep for 11 months,” he said. “Horse racing is a great cure for overconfidence.”
He reduced the size of his stable to 85 from 120 horses and hired Todd Pletcher, 43, who won the Eclipse Award as the top trainer in North America from 2004 to 2007. This year, Repole was 13 for 42 at Saratoga, and Pletcher was named top trainer.
Uncle Mo will be running from the No. 7 post position; Stay Thirsty will be next to him, leaving from No. 6.
“We have the best post positions for both horses,” Pletcher said. “It’s a perfect spot for Uncle Mo with plenty of speed inside.”
Repole hasn’t been to a Kentucky Derby since 2008, when he went as a spectator. Afterward, he told his wife that he wouldn’t return until he had a horse running in the first Triple Crown race.
He might get there in 2011 with Uncle Mo, the 20-1 favorite in the future book of Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports operations at Wynn Resorts Ltd. in Las Vegas.
“That’s a pretty short price for a race that’s seven months away,” said Avello, who opened the colt at 45-1 in the first week of September. “I’m taking quite a bit of money on him.”
Repole owns a filly that he has named Stopspendingmaria after his wife’s shopping habits. He says every time a horse wins, his wife asks how big the purse is, claims the prize and heads for a Prada store.
Stopspendingmaria replaced Noshoppingmaria, a filly that he sold. He said his wife thought he had named the horse Goshoppingmaria. Repole blamed the error on a typo in the office.
“Michael thinks by publicly announcing that I have a shopping habit, it’s going to slow down my happy habit,” Maria said in an e-mail. “It actually has the reverse effect. It has motivated me to shop even more, especially on days when my horse runs.”
Repole, who today has majority interests in Pirate Booty snacks and Energy Kitchen, a chain of health-conscious fast-food restaurants, said he hopes his wife of 10 years has a reason to go to Prada after the Breeders’ Cup race.