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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 A day before, he was withdrawn from the race because of what turned out to be a life-threatening liver ailment.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.”

Penny Chenery, owner of Triple Crown champ Secretariat, dies

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Penny Chenery, who bred and raced 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat as well as realizing her ailing father’s dream to win the Kentucky Derby in 1972 with Riva Ridge, has died. She was 95.

Chenery died Saturday in her Boulder, Colorado, home following complications from a stroke, according to her children. They announced her death Sunday through Leonard Lusky, her longtime friend and business partner.

In 1973, Secretariat captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide when he became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. He won the last leg by a whopping 31 lengths in one of the greatest performances in sports history.

The previous year, Riva Ridge won the Derby and Belmont Stakes.

Both colts were inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

“We are deeply proud of our mother, her accomplishments, and her courage,” daughter Kate Tweedy said. “As we mourn her loss, the example of her strength, her intelligence and her enduring spirit continue to inspire us.”

Chenery developed a love of horses as a child and learned to ride at age 5. She attributed her affinity for horses to her father, Christopher Chenery, who founded Meadow Stable, a thoroughbred racing and breeding operation, in Caroline County, Virginia.

After graduating from Smith College in 1943, Chenery worked as an assistant for a company that designed landing craft for the Normandy invasion. Before the invasion, she quit her job and at her father’s urging, she volunteered for the Red Cross. In 1945, Chenery traveled to France as a Doughnut Girl to help war-weary soldiers transition to ships headed home at the end of World War II.

Chenery returned from Europe in 1946, and at her father’s urging, she attended Columbia University’s business school, where she was one of 20 women in her class. Six months from graduation, she got engaged to Columbia Law graduate John “Jack” Tweedy. Her father encouraged her to quit and focus on her wedding. The couple married in 1949.

For nearly 20 years, Chenery was content to be a housewife and mother to the couple’s four children in the Denver area. She and her husband helped found and raise the initial money for Vail ski resort in the early 1960s.

Her life changed in 1968 when her father’s health and mind began failing and her mother died. His Meadow Stable, which had been profitable, began losing money. Her two siblings had planned to sell it when their father could no longer run the operation.

Chenery took over management of the racing stable, with the help of siblings Margaret Carmichael and Hollis Chenery, and her father’s business secretary. The operation was losing money and few took her seriously. Chenery commuted monthly from Colorado to Virginia, but after two more years in the red, selling the stable seemed almost inevitable.

By 1971, her colt Riva Ridge swept the juvenile stakes and won 2-year-old of the Year honors. In 1972, Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby, fulfilling her father’s dream in the last year of his life. That same year, Secretariat burst onto the scene, so dominating the 2-year-old races that he won Horse of the Year honors.

In 1973, Secretariat became a pop culture icon with his Triple Crown victory, landing on the cover of Time magazine. For the next four decades, Chenery served as a careful steward of the colt’s legacy.

She charmed as an engaging and quick-witted owner who represented her equine champions with poise, dignity and a keen business sense.

“The horse can’t talk, but I can,” she said.

Chenery was portrayed by actress Diane Lane in the 2010 movie “Secretariat.” Chenery had a cameo role as a spectator at the Belmont Stakes.

“We have always been overwhelmed and amazed by the love and support Mom received from her many fans,” son John Tweedy said.

Born Helen Bates Chenery on Jan. 27, 1922, in New Rochelle, New York, she was the youngest of three children of Christopher and Helen Chenery, for whom she was named.

Following Secretariat’s retirement, Chenery became an ambassador for thoroughbred racing and remained so after the colt’s death in 1989.

She served as the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. She became one of the first women admitted to The Jockey Club and helped found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Chenery created the Secretariat Vox Populi award annually honoring racing’s most popular horse, as well as the Secretariat Foundation, which assists and supports various charities within the racing community.

She received the 2006 Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime contributions to the thoroughbred industry, and in recent years, she advocated for laminitis research and care advancement as well as efforts to ban the use of performance-enhancing drugs in racing.

Chenery’s marriages to Tweedy and Lennart Ringquist ended in divorce. She is survived by her children from her marriage to Tweedy: Sarah Manning, Kate, Chris and John. Her other survivors are seven grandchildren and stepson Jon Ringquist.

Lusky said a public memorial was pending.

Meet offers Breeders’ Cup, Kentucky Derby, Oaks qualifiers

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Churchill Downs’ opening weekend features stakes races awarding points toward the Kentucky Derby and Oaks along with berths in the Breeders’ Cup.

The $200,000 Grade 2 Pocahontas for 2-year-old fillies and $150,000 Grade 3 Iroquois for juvenile colts headline four stakes races on Saturday. The winners of both 1 1/16-mile stakes automatically qualify for the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on Nov. 4 and earn 10 points toward the Derby and Oaks.

Dale Romans meanwhile can surpass Hall of Famer Bill Mott as Churchill’s winningest trainer with three horses entered on Friday’s 10-race opening card. Romans’ 699 career wins are just two behind the 63-year-old Mott, who has held the mark for 31 years.

Racing will occur Thursdays to Sundays through Oct. 1 with a 12:45 p.m. first post most days.