Mike Repole: Forte Checking All the Boxes
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Excited or nervous?
Just days away from the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, Mike Repole, co-owner of champion and race favorite Forte, considered the question.
“I’m not sure yet…I haven’t figured that out yet,” Repole said.
There isn’t much Repole hasn’t figured out yet. A successful businessman and entrepreneur with a passion for Thoroughbred racing, Repole and his partners Vinnie and Teresa Viola enter the Derby with a colt who’s already an overwhelming favorite for the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby (G1) as well.
And there’s good reason for it. A winner of four of five starts as a 2-year-old, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Forte returned from a four-month layoff in his 3-year-old debut and won Gulfstream’s Fountain of Youth (G2) impressively March 4 while being ridden out by regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
Repole gets the buzz around Forte, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he felt a bit of déjà vu this weekend. A dozen years ago another Repole champion, Uncle Mo, arrived at Gulfstream with much the same buzz, having also won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Uncle Mo made his 3-year-old debut in the Timely Writer and won impressively. Unfortunately, he was scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s similar, having the 2-year-old champion, having the Derby favorite, until at least March,” Repole said. “Uncle Mo won the Timely Writer at Gulfstream, and we won the Fountain of Youth. I guess in that aspect it’s similar and maybe some of the nervousness is that Uncle Mo would have been the [Kentucky] Derby favorite except he never got to run in the Derby. There are so many variables that go into this game.”
Repole believes there are a few reasons Forte is considered a strong Florida and Kentucky Derby favorite, possibly more so than Uncle Mo. And those could be the reasons he celebrates his first Florida Derby and, in May, his first Kentucky Derby.
“When they come back from 2 to 3, some peak at 2, some get better depending on what they did at 2. But to have a 2-year-old champion come back and actually train better, look better, and perform better is more than anyone can ask for, especially when he’s the 2-year-old champion, and he’s checking all those boxes right now.
“It’s a combination of him doing everything right, and really no other horse out there shows himself as, ‘Wow, this is going to be a really legitimate competitor.’ Horses are either getting hurt or disappointing in a prep…and then the way [Forte] just came back,” he added. “The Fountain of Youth, you could say, it’s tougher than the [Florida Derby] for a couple reasons. He’s coming off a 4 ½-month layoff in the Fountain of Youth, and every horse in that race had a race either four weeks ago or five weeks ago and some had two starts this year. So, when you go into that and he beats the horse that won the Holy Bull [Rocket Can], and he wins impressively…and Forte comes in here and wins by five and never sees the stick. He just does everything professionally.”
And he did it effortlessly in the Fountain of Youth, galloping “past [opponents] in really a split second from minus two [lengths] to plus three,” Repole added.
Repole has campaigned a long list of successful runners, including 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Vino Rosso with the Violas and 2022 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Mo Donegal and runner-up Nest with Donegal Racing and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House. He credits his staff for his success, including trainer Todd Pletcher. “Todd is family,” he says.
And Repole said partnering and winning with the Violas – Vinnie being owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers - “is like a Sunday dinner with family members growing up.”
For Repole, Saturday will present another opportunity to spend the day with family. He figures he’ll bring 50-60 family and friends to the track, and he’s hoping to be in the winner’s circle before the Derby. Those pictures in the winner’s circle, he says, are like family portraits.
“We have four in [Saturday],” he said. “If I go three-for-four and it’s not Forte, it’s not going to be a successful day. If I go one-for-four and Forte is the winner, it will be a great day.”
Repole, who has approximately 270 horses and strongly believes the sport has plenty of room for improvement, makes it clear he wants to win at the highest level while enjoying success with family and friends.
Once again, Repole can do just that this weekend.