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Repole in Derby chase with Outwork, son of top sire Uncle Mo

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Five years ago, Mike Repole was living the dream. He had already made his share of an estimated $4.1 billion fortune from the sale of the company that produced Vitaminwater, and now he had himself a Kentucky Derby favorite with a horse named Uncle Mo.

Repole would regale any and all about growing up in Queens, New York, near Aqueduct, heading the track after school, making bets and loving horses.

But Uncle Mo never made it to the Derby. A day before, he was withdrawn from the race because of what turned out to be a life-threatening liver ailment. The lightning-fast colt recovered, ran again and won, but was never the same. He was retired later in the year. Repole called Uncle Mo the best horse he’ll ever own.

And he wasn’t even talking about Uncle Mo’s life after racing. As a stallion, at stud in the breeding shed. With just his first crop of 3-year-olds, Uncle Mo already is a leading sire in North America — “red hot,” according to Coolmore Ashford Stud, where Uncle Mo is performing with mind-boggling success.

He’s the proud sire of three of the 20 3-year-olds running in Saturday’s Derby — from morning-line favorite Nyquist to long shot Mo Tom to a horse Repole owns, Wood Memorial winner Outwork. Tapit, a leading sire the past several years, also has three offspring in the Derby, but for a young sire like Uncle Mo to be so productive so early is rare.

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“I always knew Mo was a once-in-a-lifetime horse,” said Repole, who has made several visits to Ashford Stud, including Wednesday before the Derby draw in Louisville. “What I didn’t expect five years ago was he would give me offspring that were brilliant also. I never thought Uncle Mo would be a better sire than he was a racehorse, but he’s going to be.”

While Outwork already has accomplished something Uncle Mo didn’t — winning the Wood — it’s Nyquist who’s been this year’s sensation for owner J. Paul Reddam. Like Uncle Mo, Nyquist won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was voted 2-year-old champion. Entering the Derby he’s 7-for-7; Outwork is 3-for-4 and Mo Tom won the Lecomte and ran second in the Louisiana Derby.

“Uncle Mo’s oldest crop are only 3-year-olds, but his success so far is unlike anything we have seen for a long time,” Ashford’s manager Dermot Ryan said. “It’s fair to say that Uncle Mo is the hottest young sire in the country and as such he is extremely popular.”

And valuable. His stud fee is up to $75,000, he’s booked for the rest of the season and “the way he’s going that will likely have a big increase next season,” Ryan said.

Some of Uncle Mo’s success: 20 of his 3-year-olds were nominated to the Triple Crown races (the most by any sire) and sales of Uncle Mo’s are soaring — a pair of 2-year-olds recently went for more than $1 million each, and Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert picked out a yearling for $700,000. Repole is buying them up, too. He owns more than a dozen.

Through April 26, Uncle Mo’s progeny totals 585 foals, including 323 of racing age with earnings of more than $8.5 million, according to Equineline.com. Already, he’s having a huge influence on his offspring as a big bay, durable, fast and smart.

“They have size and scope, and they look like him, too. His dominant genes are coming through,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Outwork and trained Uncle Mo. “What’s great about him is he can put speed into a big horse. They old-timers will tell you that a really good sire will stamp his offspring. He is doing that.”

Doug O’Neill sure is a believer. He trains Nyquist, who has won all seven of his races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — like Uncle Mo did — and the Florida Derby. His brother, Dennis, picked out Nyquist at a price of $400,000.

“He just really loved the way he moved,” O’Neill said. “And he picks out athletes first, the pedigree is secondary. But once he fell in love with him as an individual, the Uncle Mo was just a huge added bonus because of how good he was.”

Now, O’Neill feels fortunate his brother was at the right place at the right time.

“The other Uncle Mo’s were really looking good in the sales, too, even though none of them had run yet, but there was definitely a buzz about Uncle Mo. Fortunately, we jumped ahead of the hot Uncle Mo train.”

Today, Uncle Mo hangs out with former stablemate Stay Thirsty at Ashford, and heads to the breeding shed in the early afternoons.

“He’s a big, strong horse and is all stallion,” Ashford stallion manager Richard Barry said. “He’s a pleasure to be around and seems to excel at everything he does.”

Repole’s visit on Wednesday went well.

“Spending time with him brings back so many amazing memories,” he said. “You’re supposed to love your children the same, but Mo will always be my favorite.”

For Repole, winning the Wood with Outwork was a great moment he shared with family and friends: “To come back five years later, a New York guy, and winning it? Probably the most special moment I’ve had in my racing career,” he said.

Outwork will be Repole’s third Derby horse. Stay Thirsty ran the year Uncle Mo was scratched and finished 12th. Overanalyze ran 11th in the 2013 Derby.

Just days away from the race, Repole will be one nervous owner.

“The anxiety before the race is not fun,” he said. “The exhilaration after (winning) the race is fun. And to have a horse that’s a son of Uncle Mo in it … You can’t ask for more.”

Bob Baffert sweeps Futurity and Starlet at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert became the first trainer to win the $300,000 CashCall Futurity and $294,000 Starlet in the same year at Los Alamitos on Saturday.

McKinzie won the Futurity for 2-year-olds via disqualification after Solomini, Baffert’s other entry in the race, was cited by the stewards for interference in deep stretch and dropped from first to third.

In the next race, 2-5 favorite Dream Tree won the Starlet by 3 1/4 lengths to improve to 3-0 for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Baffert has won the Futurity a record 10 times, including the last four at Los Alamitos, where it was moved from now-closed Hollywood Park, where he won it six times.

McKinzie, named for Baffert’s late friend and Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, was carried wide into the first turn and kept clear by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. McKinzie rallied approaching the stretch in tandem with Instilled Regard while Solomini started to gain outside of that pair.

The three horses came together and with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard before going on to finish three-quarters of a length in front of McKinzie, who was a head in front of Instilled Regard.

Baffert was surprised when the three stewards voted 2-1 to disqualify Solomini.

“It’s really too bad they took him down,” he said. “He was the better horse today.”

McKinzie returned $3 and $2.40. Instilled Regard paid $6.80. There was no show wagering because of the small field.

The final time for the Futurity was 1:42.57. McKinzie earned $180,000, increasing his career earnings to $210,000.

In the Starlet for 2-year-old fillies, Dream Tree and jockey Drayden Van Dyke covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.87 and paid $2.80 to win. It was Baffert’s fourth career win in the race.

Yesterday’s News was second and Piedi Bianchi was third.

Trainers rushed to save terrified horses as flames closed in

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BONSALL, Calif. — A routine day at an elite training center for racehorses transformed into terror and chaos in minutes, with hundreds of thoroughbreds stampeding out of their stalls in a desperate attempt to flee a Southern California wildfire that set their barns ablaze.

Turned loose by their trainers in a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the huge, muscular animals, their eyes wide with fear, charged through thick smoke and past dancing flames.

While hundreds made it to the safety of a nearby racetrack, others galloped in circles, unsure which way to run. Still others, too frightened to leave their paddocks, stayed there and died.

Workers at San Luis Rey Downs said an estimated 30 to 40 horses perished Thursday in the wildfire still raging out of control north of San Diego on Friday. At least two stable workers were injured, and their conditions were not immediately known.

Trainers described a terrifying scene that erupted at the facility Thursday afternoon, recalling how only minutes after smelling smoke, they saw flames roaring down a nearby hillside.

“I was heading to my barn to drop my equipment off and I smell smoke,” trainer Kim Marrs said Friday as she stood outside the still-smoldering facility. “Within two minutes, I look up the hill and you could just see it come up over the ridge.”

She and others tried to turn back the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers before firefighters arrived. But when embers from burning palm trees began igniting the roofs of barns, they realized they had no other alternative than to turn loose the approximately 450 horses stabled there.

“The next thing, there’s a stampede of 100 horses coming through here,” said Marrs, who was trying to lead one of the horses she trains, a 5-year-old named Spirit World, through a tunnel. “We almost got trampled to death.”

At one of the center’s many barns, video showed a group of trainers frantically tearing down a wooden fence and shouting at their horses to run.

One large black horse, its forelocks wrapped in white leggings, bolted toward safety but then spooked by the burning palm trees, turned and fled back toward its stable. Scores of others charged through thick smoke to safety.

Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns on his chest and arm trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She wouldn’t budge, and he said she burned to death there.

“She was one of my favorites,” Sise said as he sat outside the facility.

Trainer Jerry Contreras said one of his best friends, a fellow trainer, was hospitalized.

“He was trying to get his horses out and was burned,” Contreras said.

At San Luis Rey Downs, the phone rang unanswered and the owners quickly barred outsiders from the sprawling facility.

It is Southern California’s premier training center for thoroughbreds, with a competition-sized racetrack, a smaller one for training, numerous trails for horses to relax on and even a swimming pool for them to work out in.

The center can house as many as 500 horses and states proudly on a sign out front that it is the “Home of Azeri,” racing’s U.S. Horse of the Year in 2002.

Other thoroughbreds that have trained there include Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

The facility sits among rolling hills, picturesque vineyards and farms down a winding, two-lane road just a few miles off busy Interstate 15, the main thoroughfare connecting Southern California to Las Vegas.

The horses that fled were quickly rounded up, and many were taken to the nearby Del Mar racetrack, where a veterinary center was set up for the injured.

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from the racing community, with Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course canceling its daytime thoroughbred program Friday out of respect.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, have set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for hospital and rehab costs.

Santa Anita racetrack officials in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia collected clothes and other items for stable workers who lost their possessions.

“I lost everything. Forty years. I lost all my tack, all my machines, my webbings. It was all burned. My whole livelihood. I feel like quitting,” the 66-year-old Sise said.