HANDICAPPING INSIGHTS

NOVEMBER 30, 2012

by Dick Powell

Mike Repole has been an outspoken critic of the Breeders' Cup the past few years. First, it was Belmont Park not being part of any rotation of sites to hold it. Repole was so mad each time the Breeders' Cup announced that it was going back to Santa Anita or Churchill Downs that he encouraged the New York Racing Association to hold their major stakes races at the same time and give East Coast horses an option instead of shipping to the Cup.

Repole, whose silks are the same blue and orange of the New York Mets (by the way, blue and orange are the official colors of the City of New York) and who was once rumored to have an interest in buying the baseball franchise, even offered to put up his own money to seed the purse structure and make it lucrative enough to stay home.

This year, Repole boycotted the Breeders' Cup completely over the Lasix issue. He did not send his juveniles, who would not have been allowed to race on Lasix, and kept everybody else at home as well, including Stay Thirsty, who skipped the Breeders' Cup Classic in favor of the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Saturday.

Despite a bulging bank account from the sale of Vitamin Water, everything else about Repole is blue collar so what better venue than the Big A for his horses to race after skipping the glitz and glamour of Santa Anita.

His weekend began on Thanksgiving Day when Caixa Eletronica dominated the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap while racing much closer to the pace than usual and blowing away the speedy This One's for Phil by four lengths in 1:08.69, earning an excellent 108 BRIS Speed rating.

It was the culmination of a sensational year for Caixa Eletronica who has earned more than $1.1 million this year alone, not bad for a 6yo horse that was claimed on March 11, 2011 for $62,500 by Repole. Instead of the Breeders' Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile, Repole picked up a Grade 3 stakes victory and a $90K first prize.

On Friday, Repole had Notacatbutallama in the Super Mario Stakes instead of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Sent off as the 1-2 favorite for Todd Pletcher, he broke a bit slow and had to race in behind horses before a hole opened up in the stretch and Johnny Velazquez sent him through to win easily. It was the second, wide-margin stakes win for Repole/Pletcher, which quickly ended on Saturday.

The first graded stakes race on Saturday at Aqueduct was the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes for juvenile fillies going nine furlongs on the main track. Velazquez put Unlimited Budget on the lead right from the start and kept favored Emollient at bay. It was a brilliant ride by Velazquez as he took advantage of his filly's tactical speed and handiness to foil every challenge that Emollient could mount. The final margin was 1 1/4 lengths, but they could have gone around again and Unlimited Budget was not going to let anyone get by her.

Next up was the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes for 2yo males going nine furlongs on the main track. Instead of Velazquez, Repole/Pletcher had Ramon Dominguez in the irons aboard Overanalyze and he needed every ounce of talent and tactics to pull this off.

At the start, Javier Castellano sent Delhomme, also trained by Pletcher, to the front while Dominguez had Overanalyze perfectly placed on his outside flank. They ran as a team through fractions of :48.08 and 1:12.54 and they both looked to be in big trouble as Normandy Invasion was making up ground willingly on the far turn.

It looked like Normandy Invasion was going to blow right by, but the Pletcher team fought back and it was a three-horse, ding-dong battle to the wire. Delhomme was the first to crack as he weakened ever so slightly and at the wire, Dominguez had Overanalyze's nose down when it counted to achieve the improbable result.

Either Normandy Invasion used up all his fuel while making up the ground needed to catch up with the leaders or just hung when it counted but if there would have been in-race betting, he would have been odds-on turning for home.

For Overanalyze, it was his second Grade 2 stakes win of the year and first going two turns. He earned a huge 104 BRIS Speed rating.

Not in the race, but a winner nonetheless, was Uncaptured, who won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes going two turns at Churchill Downs on Saturday for Mark Casse. In the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes last month, Uncaptured beat Overanalyze by eight lengths so his form looks terrific going into next year.

With four stakes wins in a row, I wasn't too confident with Stay Thirsty's chances in the Cigar Mile. Yes, good things come in threes but to expect Repole/Pletcher to win three graded stakes in a row is pretty unusual and I was afraid that all the good karma was used up.

The field of seven was reduced to five when Jersey Town and Associate were scratched in the morning. Associate figured to be part of the early pace so now it looked even worse for Stay Thirsty since the pace might be too soft for him to rally into.

At the start, Stay Thirsty broke a bit slow and wound up in fourth behind the three horses dueling for the lead. As expected, Buffum went to the lead but he was pressed by Coil, who broke well, unlike in the Breeders' Cup Sprint when he got left, and Groupie Doll, who was a late entry in the race due to coming out of her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint win in such great shape.

The leading trio went through the half in a pedestrian 47.04 seconds. The track Saturday at Aqueduct was hard to figure out since most of the races were run very slowly even though it was watered between races. The wind looked like it was at the horses back down the backstretch but the early fractions did not always support this. My guess is that the pace was real slow and the leaders would have plenty left in the tank turning for home.

Dominguez kept Stay Thirsty in behind and after deciding not to wait for running room on the inside, he swung to the outside to take clear aim at the leaders. As they approached the final furlong, Coil and Buffum began to weaken and suddenly Groupie Doll looked like she had an insurmountable lead.

The winner of five graded stakes in a row since adding blinkers was making her bid for Horse of the Year and only one horse could now deny her. Stay Thirsty was closing relentlessly but even a 100 yards from the wire, it looked like he would fall short. Groupie Doll kept on going while Stay Thirsty would not give up.

One stride short of the wire and Stay Thirsty had a nose in front and on the final bob, he won it by the slimmest of margins. When you watch the replay again, just watch the jockeys. At no time, even in the winning photo, was Dominguez ever ahead of Rajiv Maragh on Groupie Doll. He's at least a foot behind at the wire.

For Stay Thirsty, it's the end of a career where he played second fiddle to stablemate Uncle Mo for his first two years of racing. This year, he was pointed toward the championship part of the season but got off to an awful start and was below the radar screen for most of the year. He now has a Grade 1 win going a mile to go with his Grade 1 win going 10 furlongs in the Travers and should be well received at stud.

For Groupie Doll, an agonizing inch might have cost her Horse of the Year honors. Had she won the photo, it would have been very tough to deny her the title. Luckily for us, she'll be back next year for another campaign after a well deserved rest.

And, for Repole, it was confirmation that the decision he made to stay home was worth it. His only problem now is if NYRA ever follows his advice and holds a major day of racing to compete with the Breeders' Cup, Repole's success on Saturday might scare horses away.

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