As Overanalyze left nine opponents behind in the Arkansas Derby, suddenly it hit Mike Repole. He was going back to the Kentucky Derby. "At the sixteenth pole, I started celebrating with the friends and family," he said. "I lost my voice."
Repole lost sleep on his first trip to America's Race. There was much anguish two years ago when Uncle Mo, his undefeated 2-year-old champion, was upset in the Wood Memorial, contracted a rare liver ailment and was scratched the day before the Derby. Then Repole's other colt, Stay Thirsty, finished 12th.
"I always dreamed of owning a once-in-a-lifetime horse like Uncle Mo," the Nassau County resident said Wednesday, "but I never realized how much anxiety comes with a horse like that. I was calling [trainer] Todd Pletcher every day. It was very stressful."
Until the 4 1/4-length runaway April 13 at Oaklawn Park, which Repole watched on television, he wasn't counting on a second Derby. Before Overanalyze's 3-year-old debut March 2 in the Gotham Stakes, Repole stood in the paddock at Aqueduct, his home track while growing up in Queens. "If he wins, I'll talk to you all day," he said. "If not, I'm heading for the car."
He had no reason to stick around after Overanalyze plodded in fifth, never resembling the colt who outfought Normandy Invasion by a nose Nov. 24 in the Remsen Stakes.
"Maybe that was my fault," Pletcher said. "I didn't do enough with him. I think he was probably a little rusty coming off the layoff. He needed the race to get himself moving forward. Everything came together Saturday. We loved how he finished and the way he galloped out after the wire."
Although Overanalyze's Beyer speed figure in Arkansas was low (88), he was at least four-wide throughout and could have gone faster if Rafael Bejarano had pushed harder. "Once we got into the stretch, I felt like I had a lot of horse left," Bejarano said, "and I saved something for the next race."
HRTV's Jeff Siegel, one of the country's best public handicappers, was impressed. "Now they've figured out his proper style: Anchor him and make a late run," Siegel said. "Overanalyze has speed but he's willing to sit back and make a quarter-mile run. He might turn out to be Pletcher's best Derby colt. He might really be the goods."
Overanalyze is 4-for-7, with three graded-stakes trophies. The Arkansas Derby was his second win at 1 1/8 miles, a unique achievement in this Derby crop. His versatility also stands out. "I think the thing that's so special about him,'' Repole said, "is he can go wire to wire or from last to first."
Overanalyze and the 4-for-4 filly Unlimited Budget, also trained by Pletcher, give Repole a chance to become the first owner to sweep the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby since Calumet Farm did it in 1952.
A week before the Gotham, Normandy Invasion ran fifth in his 2013 debut, the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. Instantly, the Remsen was reviled as a negative key race. After Normandy Invasion surged late for second in the Wood and Overanalyze dominated in Arkansas, the Remsen again was a "past is prologue" event. The wind often shifts dramatically in spring, especially for 3-year-old thoroughbreds and the alleged experts who assess them.
After Uncle Mo's star-crossed trip to Louisville, no one knows that better than Repole.
"Now my friends and family and I know what the Derby experience is like," said Repole, whose entourage will number "40 to 50," from his 7-year-old niece to his 87-year-old grandmother. "We're excited about it, but it's a lot less pressure.
"It's like making the NCAA Final Four. I'm so competitive I always want to win, but it's a great accomplishment just to get there. I'm really blessed to have a colt for the Derby and a filly for the Oaks, and this time I've got a smile on my face."