Todd Pletcher liked winning the John Morrissey. For one, it was a stakes at Saratoga. For two, it was with one of his favorite horses, Ibboyee. For three, and perhaps most importantly or at least entertainingly, he beat Mike Repole.
The far-reaching owner has horses with multiple trainers but uses Pletcher as the lead dog, producing such standouts as champion Uncle Mo, Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty and Sanford winner Overdriven.
Pletcher’s military-school reserved, son of a trainer, cards to his chest. Repole is school’s out zealous, Queens-raised, all his cards on the table all the time. When Uncle Mo is breezing, Repole puts it on Facebook. Pletcher is not on Facebook.
“I didn’t know how we would hit it off, because in a lot of ways we’re very different but we also have a lot of similarities that wouldn’t be obvious but once you get to know each other, you see it,” Pletcher said. “He’s one of those guys you can be completely honest with, I tell him, ‘Man, you are one high-maintenance dude.’ He takes the bad news well and if you’re going to survive this game you’ve got to be able to do that.”
Pletcher delivered the bad news with a razor cut Wednesday when Ibboyee nabbed Be Bullish, trained by George Weaver, at the wire of the New York-bred stakes. After the race, Pletcher laughed at the irony and humor of beating Repole. On the Pletcheremotionometer, there’s Rags To Riches’ Belmont, Uncle Mo’s Breeders’ Cup and Ibboyee’s John Morrissey.
“We’ve been jawing at each other all week, he said, ‘we’ll find out if it’s you or me who’s the successful part of this team,’ just funny banter,” Pletcher said. “I told him, ‘my dream scenario is to nail you on the last jump.’ I almost felt bad, that was so nasty. Almost. His horse ran a big race. My phone went dead so I haven’t heard from him, but I’m sure I will.”
Pletcher always hears from Repole.
In what would be the dumbest question I’ve asked all meet, I asked Repole if it was easy to stay out of the way. He just looked at me – part amusement and part disdain.
“You need to rephrase the question, you should ask him if it’s easy to train while Mike’s in the way,” Repole said. “I don’t stay out of the way. I love challenging him with questions, at the end of the day, he makes the final decision, I’ve never overruled Todd Pletcher in my life, but if he’s wrong, I tell him. We balance each other out well. I think we thrive off each other, we’re both very competitive. He calms me down, I’ll say, ‘can I get excited now?’ ‘No, not yet.’ I’ll get excited about a big win and he’ll say wasn’t impressive.”
Repole raged against the machine for five years and then finally gave in and got a seat on the Pletcher float.
“I kept running horses against him and I’d watch him go down to the winner’s circle and I’d sit there depressed with my family, after five years of agony and pain, there’s a saying if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I decided to join him.”
Fill the glass with ice. Add alcohol. Light match.
Guys like Mike Repole turn a tradition-rich game on its head. He’s loud, opinionated, outspoken and spends with both fists. The last part gives him creditability, room.
Repole is as excited about winning a $25,000 claimer as he is about winning the Jim Dandy. He brings lots of friends to the races. He’s vibrant. Passionate. Aggressive. He wants to buy the Mets.
“It’s cool, it’s what we need, guys who are 40 years old and buying racehorses,” Pletcher said. “It’s what the industry needs for years to come, that enthusiasm, supporting it on all levels, claiming horses, breeding horses, buying horses at the sale, putting a few bucks through the window. At every level, he’s here. He brings some enthusiasm and energy that not everybody does.”
Repole calls the game a rollercoaster, with lots of loops and no seatbelts. He’s reached the heights of a championship with Uncle Mo and the depths of missing the Derby with him. He had a first-time starter win and break on the undercard of the Sanford, three hours later he won the Sanford.
“Talk about the highs and lows, it’s a perfect game for a person who’s bi-polar, this is the perfect game, it’s all about highs and lows, it’s day to day,” Repole said. “I don’t know how trainers do this every single day. Being an owner of 70, 80 horses, is tough but how you train 180 horses, the ups and downs. I shouldn’t be an owner but I’d never be a trainer.”
Good thing he wasn’t training Be Bullish.