Commentary

Be like Mike

Updated: April 7, 2011, 11:26 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

I never really believed much in the idea that something can be "good for the game." If a horse were to win a Triple Crown there would still be 3,009 people at Belmont the following Wednesday. As marvelous as she was, Zenyatta's exploits have done nothing to save California racing from getting off to a miserable start in 2011. Few things in the sport, no matter how great or marvelous they may be, seem to have much of a carryover effect.

Repole hugs trainer Todd Pletcher after Uncle Mo wins the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
Horsephotos.comRepole hugs trainer Todd Pletcher after Uncle Mo's Champagne Stakes victory.
But in Uncle Mo and his owner Mike Repole, we may actually have something that is "good for the game," something that could help lift horse racing out of its ongoing malaise. That's what makes them so easy to root for.

There's no doubt that should Uncle Mo sweep Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont he will create the sort of excitement that racing hasn't seen in more than 30 years and put 100,000-plus people in the seats at Belmont come June 11. But as great as Uncle Mo appears to be, it is Repole that might just do more for the sport than anyone has in a long time.

If Uncle Mo gets to the Belmont Stakes undefeated, Repole, who doesn't shy away from publicity, is going to become the face of racing, and that would be a good thing. Not only is he a terrific representative of the sport, he leads by example and maybe he can chip away at some of the mindsets that have been so counterproductive to the game's overall well being.

Repole, more so than any one else, puts the sport first, which makes him a breath of fresh air in an era when self-interests almost always prevail.

That's why he has already announced that if Uncle Mo stays healthy he will race next year as a 4-year-old. Repole, a very rich guy, gets it that the many millions that Uncle Mo could put in his pocket the minute he stops being a race horse and becomes a sire won't change his life one bit. He'd much rather enjoy watching the horse race and treating the racing fan to at least one more year of watching this potential superstar on the racetrack. Who knows, maybe Uncle Mo will run at five, maybe six.

That sort of thinking sounds so logical, but very few ever keep their good horses racing a second longer than they have to. Greed wins out just about every time.

For obvious reasons, Repole loves Uncle Mo, but he seems to love all of his horses. Repole always goes the extra mile to make sure that anything that comes into his barn never has to worry about their post-racing careers. He is among the most generous donors in the sport when it comes to thoroughbred rescue charities and he showered an old claimer he owned named Cool N Collective with love and affection when throwing him a retirement party last year at Aqueduct before sending him off to a cushy life.

He does everything he can to help promote the sport. A busy guy, Repole makes himself accessible to the media and is always friendly and upbeat when he does. He is particularly good to New York racing, which is why he told trainer Todd Pletcher that Uncle Mo would go in the Wood Memorial instead of the Florida Derby. Repole wanted to do something for the Big A, the same track where he discovered racing. He grew up in Middle Village, Queens, not far from Aqueduct.

I'm truly blessed. I'm so appreciate of every thing given to me. I'm very fortunate and now I try to give back in as many ways as possible.

-- Uncle Mo's owner Mike Repole
Not that any of this should come as a surprise. Repole is the guy who appears to be too good to be true but apparently isn't.

The co-founder of Glaceau, the company that makes Vitaminwater and Smartwater, he sold his business to Coca Cola for $4.1 billion. Yet, he is the least pretentious filthy rich person you could ever find. Usually seen in sweatshirts and jeans, he dresses like a kid from Queens that refuses to grow up, which is exactly what he is. He remains loyal to his neighborhood friends, donates millions to charities, calls his parents every day and helps look after an ailing grandmother. We learned from a feature story on Repole in the New York Daily News that he talked his brother into retiring from the police department and helped set him up in the real estate business so that no one would have to worry about his safety.

"I'm not delusional about how lucky I am," he told the Daily News. "I'm truly blessed. I'm so appreciate of every thing given to me. I'm very fortunate and now I try to give back in as many ways as possible."

Maybe Repole is just one in a million. Then again, maybe there are others in the sport that will see what he does and how he goes about his business and decide to emulate him. If he can do it, others can. Be like Mike, be "good for the game."

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com