On the evening of June 5, two of Mike Repole's sporting passions came together when the post position draw for the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) was held at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
A lifelong Mets fan whose silks sport the orange and blue colors of the team, Repole will run two horses in the June 9 Belmont at Belmont Park, both owned in partnership: Vino Rosso, who drew post 8, and Noble Indy, who will break right next door from post 9.
"Hopefully," said Repole of the draw location, "that's a good sign."
A native of Queens who grew up going to Belmont and Aqueduct Racetrack, Repole has never made any secret of his desire to win New York's biggest races, and in a relatively short time, he's built an impressive résumé. His horses have won the Gotham Stakes (G3), the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), the Wood Memorial twice (as both a grade 1 and grade 2), the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1), the Alabama Stakes (G1), and the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (G1).
"This is the pinnacle," Repole said. "I want to win this race more than I want to win the Kentucky Derby."
He owns Vino Rosso, who won this year's Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2), with St. Elias Stable, the nom de course of Vincent Viola, a fellow Italian-American and New Yorker who grew up in Brooklyn. The men have been friends since Viola got involved in racing about eight years ago, with Repole serving as a sort of mentor.
"After the Wood, his whole family and my whole family came back to my house," Repole said. "And I'll tell you, we drank a lot of vino rosso. It will be a great New York story if Vino wins."
Should Noble Indy win, it will be a different kind of story. Repole's partner in that horse is WinStar Farm, which also owns a share of dual classic winner Justify, setting up the possibility that one WinStar horse could derail the Triple Crown dreams of another.
"(WinStar president and CEO) Elliott (Walden) and WinStar have been great," Repole said. "(Trainer) Todd (Pletcher) worked both horses together, and I told Elliott I'd stay home and he should go watch and then decide whether Noble Indy should run.
"Both horses freaked. They couldn't be separated, so we made the decision to run both horses."
Noble Indy is the longer shot of the two, with morning line odds of 30-1. Vino Rosso is 8-1 on the morning line. Javier Castellano will be in the saddle of the former, John Velazquez on the latter.
At one point, it was possible both Pletcher and WinStar would have three horses in the Belmont Stakes when Audible, winner of the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) and third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), was under consideration. The horse owned by WinStar in partnership with China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, and Starlight Racing—the same group that owns Justify—has been shipped to WinStar Farm near Lexington for a freshening.
Repole's sense of family extends beyond his blood relatives to his racing community, and he considers Pletcher a friend as much as he does a trainer. And, said the owner, he wanted to run Noble Indy as much for the trainer as for himself.
"In fairness to Todd," Repole said, "this horse deserves a chance."
And a Belmont Stakes trophy would go a long way toward soothing the hurt of yet another bleak Mets season, which is nothing new to Repole.
"Lately," he said, "my silks have performed a lot better than the Mets' uniforms."