This was supposed to be one big bonanza of a weekend for Mike Repole.
The 54-year-old with the rat-a-tat-tat Queens accent, was hoping to leave Saratoga Race Course with a trunk full of trophies. Didn’t work out.
Two of Repole’s big guns, 4-year-old Nest and 3-year-old Forte , were up in two of the Spa’s biggest races. Both lost. Nest could only manage a third-place finish in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) Aug. 25; Forte, considered by many to be the leader of the division, was a no-show in the Travers Stakes (G1).
Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, Forte’s best on this day produced a fourth-place finish, eight lengths behind the impressive Arcangelo , who continued his upward drive by winning his fourth straight.
Repole was in the outside the winner’s circle after conferring with his jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr. As the two spoke, the swell of noise was growing as Arcangelo and jockey Javier Castellano—who won his record seventh Travers—came back and trainer Jena Antonucci and owner Jon Ebbert came down from the clubhouse to an avalanche of cheers.
Repole took it all in and then tried to dissect just what had gone wrong.
Forte and Ortiz rallied six wide in upper stretch but, like the powerful move he had shown in the past was not there on this day.
“He was in the spot I thought he wanted to be in,” Repole said. “At the top of the stretch, I thought we were going to make a big run at it, but I think he just kind of leveled off. Obviously, the best horse won.”
Repole thought he had the best horse going in. Forte’s resume backed him up on that.
He had won three of four starts this year, including the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park and the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at the Spa earlier in the meet.
The Jim Dandy was a roughly run race as Forte and Ortiz had to battle down the sloppy Spa stretch that day and they prevailed by just a nose over Saudi Crown .
After the dull performance Aug. 26, the natural question was whether or not the Jim Dandy had taken some of the starch out of Forte.
“I’m not sure,” Repole said.
But he would agree that Forte was just plain flat.
“At the three sixteenths to home, it looked like he leveled off,” he said. “Am I surprised about that? I guess so. I expect to win, so I guess it surprised me. When Irad goes five wide and wins by 10, I’m happy. When he goes five wide and I’m fourth by five, I’m not happy. It is what it is.”
On the morning of Aug. 26, Repole was confident he had the best 3-year-old in the land. As night arrived at the Spa, he was relinquishing the title. For now.
“I’m not afraid to say it; Arcangelo is the best 3-year-old in the country,” he said.
After the crowd of 48,292 at the Spa began to thin, Repole and his usual entourage would be on the move. A restaurant visit was the plan and it would be a time to lick the Travers wounds.
“I am blessed,” he said. “Do I feel empty? That is the worst word you can use. Unhappy? That’s terrible. Disappointed. Now, give me an hour and a glass of wine with my family and friends and I’ll be back to normal.”
Yes, he was unhappy with the way the Nest and Forte ran. But Repole always looks for the good when all seems bleak. He harkens back to Aug. 25 when his 2-year-old colt named Fierceness, a son of City of Light , debuted at Saratoga and won by 11 1/4 lengths.
“So, I got the best 2-year-old in the country,” Repole said with a big grin. “I’ll be alright.”