LOUISVILLE — At times, it seems Mike Repole can't get his words out fast enough — at least not quickly enough to keep up with his rapidly firing thoughts.
When it comes to talking horse racing, there are no short answers from the 41-year-old native of Queens, and every sentence contains more enthusiasm than the last.
"I think I have the type of personality where I'm very passionate," Repole said, an understatement if ever there were one. "I always tell people, if you're passionate about something, go for it. If you're not passionate about it, don't waste your time."
About six years ago, Repole decided it was time to go from lifelong fan of racing to devoted owner of Thoroughbreds.
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As he's done with his numerous businesses, the ebullient Repole has channeled his desire into a successful venture that has been rewarding in many ways.
Should either Grade I winner Uncle Mo or his stablemate, Stay Thirsty, win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Saturday, their ultra-competitive owner, Repole, just might win the prize for most demonstrative display of emotion after a race.
A self-made businessman who cofounded Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, Repole said he's been dreaming of being in this position since he was a 12-year-old trying to make bets at Aqueduct.
Other classmates wanted to become professional athletes, but Repole's sports fantasy was standing in the winner's circle with Thoroughbred racing's next star.
With a booming stable of about 80 horses, a recent leading-owner title at Saratoga, and the morning-line favorite for the Juvenile in Uncle Mo, Repole can check that goal off his list.
"Many kids dream about being a professional baseball player or pro basketball player, and I dreamt about having a Triple Crown winner," Repole said. "If I'm into something, I'm into it in a big way. Even when I was 13, 14 years old, I knew eventually I would be an owner. I didn't know if it would be 1994, 2004 or 2014, but it was on my bucket list of things I was going to do in my life.
"I'm the most competitive person; I don't give up."
Selling Glaceau to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion in 2007 might rank as Repole's most lucrative achievement, but conquering the racing game has brought the marketing mastermind some of his greatest personal satisfaction.
Many businessmen come into racing thinking they can simply throw big dollars into the sport and get results, but Repole said he approaches racehorse ownership the same way he does his companies.
Instead of getting into seven-figure bidding wars in the auction arena, Repole plots out a budget and rarely spends more than $200,000 on a prospect. His listens to key members of his team including trainer Todd Pletcher and racing manager Jim Martin. He asks questions — lots of them — over and over, and he never takes for granted the success he does achieve.
"It shocks me that people come into racing with no game plan," said Repole, who is also the chairman and majority owner of Pirate Brands, maker of the snack food Pirate's Booty. "If they ran their other businesses the way they run their horse business, they would have gone bankrupt years ago.
"I do have a game plan, I'm thinking about what I'm going to do next year and how much I'm going to spend next year," he continued. "If I wanted to outbid somebody, I can. But that's not my objective. I'd rather have 20 good horses for $200,000 each than one horse for $4 million and have anxiety every day that he's limping in the morning."
Before Oct. 9, one of Repole's sources of angst was his 0-for-27 record in graded stakes.
Uncle Mo put an end to that. After breaking his maiden by a dazzling 141/4 lengths at Saratoga in August, the bay son of Indian Charlie showed the same ability in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont when he took all the heat up front through a half in :454⁄5 and still drew off in hand for a 43/4-length win.
"When he crossed the wire ... I looked around and saw my wife, Maria, my grandmother, all the people who have rooted for me, and I kind of lost it for a second," Repole said. "I'm a very thankful guy, and I know that feeling that day would have never felt as great if I didn't have those 27 losses to hang on me. It's perseverance."
In Uncle Mo and Hopeful Stakes runner-up Stay Thirsty, both trained by Pletcher, Repole has two shots at celebrating a Breeders' Cup win in his first trip — a reality he's still trying to digest.
"Fifty percent of me can't believe it, and 50 percent of me is on pins and needles," Repole said. "I've had the saying, think big, dream bigger. This is almost surreal."