By Claire Novak
Special to Hawthorne
– The Kentucky Derby hopes of one Michael J. Repole
resting squarely on his young shoulders, Our Entourage strode off a horse van
onto the grounds of Hawthorne Race Course Friday afternoon.
You’ve heard of Repole, and of his 2010 Champion and early Kentucky Derby
favorite Uncle Mo (and stablemate Stay Thirsty), and
of the whirlwind entertainment that ensued from their center-of-attention run
last year as Uncle Mo scratched the morning before the race and Stay Thirsty
ran to finish twelfth.
The spotlight drifted away
from Repole this Triple Crown season, but Our
Entourage could turn it back in the affable owner’s direction with a score in
Saturday’s $500,000 TVG Illinois Derby – Repole’s
only potential of having a contender running for the roses this year.
“It would be kind of nice to
sneak in the back door of the Kentucky Derby,” Repole
remarked from his New York
office on Wednesday. “If somehow I’m fortunate enough to get this horse there,
let me tell you, this route would have been a lot less pressure and stress.
Don’t get me wrong, it was the experience of a lifetime with Mo and Thirsty
last year, but it’s kind of like being the number one seed in college
basketball – everyone’s gunning for you.”
Our Entourage, 9-2 second
choice on the Illinois Derby morning line, will have less of a target on his
back than Currency Swap, the 4-1 favorite and winner of the 2011 Hopeful
Stakes. But Todd Pletcher trainees always take money
since the five-time Eclipse Award winner has sent out four winners of the
Illinois Derby (Distilled, 2001; Pollard’s Vision, 2004; Cowtown
Cat, 2007; Joe Vann, 2011).
A son of Street Cry, Our
Entourage has only won on the grass. His two dirt efforts resulted in a
second-place finish at Saratoga
last August first time out, and a fifth in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at
Aqueduct last November after finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Futurity on the
Polytrack at Keeneland in October. He broke his
maiden over the Belmont
lawn last September and made a season debut on the grass at Gulfstream Feb. 25,
and his pedigree screams turf – his dam is the Grade 1-winning turf mare Sand
Springs, a daughter of Dynaformer who took the Diana
Stakes among other victories in 2005.
“Do I think he’s a better
turf horse? Yes,” Repole remarked. “Do I think he’s a turf horse who can dirt? Absolutely.”
Our Entourage has been
steadily working in company over the dirt track at Palm Meadows with top
runners like Risen Star Stakes victor El Padrino,
2011 Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, and promising 3-year-old Windsurfer.
“Every time he stays with
them and works the same time; every time he's been doing it as easy as the
other horse and the gallop out is the same,” said Repole.
“Even though he hasn’t raced on the dirt since November, I think the horse
deserves a shot on the dirt as a 3-year-old. He actually was at Churchill Downs
before he ran in the Keeneland race and he worked
really good there on the dirt. I think there’s
something about the dirt at Churchill that some horses with turf pedigrees
like. Horses like (Kentucky Derby winners) Barbaro,
Big Brown, Animal Kingdom… I don’t know why, but they take to it.”
said Our Entourage has never been just a number among the 87 thoroughbreds he
currently owns – the $350,000 Keeneland September
Yearling Sale purchase has been on his radar from day one.
“We knew he’s a May foal and
he was going to be a late developer,” the owner remarked. “When I put up the
$350,000 we knew his pedigree was more turf than dirt but I joked that for
$350,000, Todd better teach him to run on the dirt. On the turf he has kind of
freaked but even on the dirt he’s still done well. In the Remsen he was fifth
and that sounds like, ‘Not good, he was fifth,’ but he was only fifth by two
lengths and I think it was him showing signs of immaturity more than not liking
Our Entourage is aptly named
running under the orange and blue silks patterned after the team colors of Repole’s beloved Mets, since about 40 people have been
known to join the affable owner at the races to cheer home runners on any given
“My entourage thinks we’re
going to win the Illinois Derby with Our Entourage and they’re already after me
to buy tickets to Kentucky,”
Repole joked. “I’ll have about 40 of my friends and
family members with me at Aqueduct on Saturday when we have three horses
running, two in graded stakes (Carter contender Calibrachoa
and Bay Shore starter
How Do I Win). I asked if I could use the teletheatre
to watch the Illinois Derby since we won’t be able to make it home in time
before the race goes off. So all 40 of us will pile in there and then win or lose, we’re headed back to the Repole
residence for a fun family party, just enjoying life.”
What are Repole’s
thoughts of his runner’s chances in Chicagoland?
“I like the way the race
sets up and he’s obviously bred to go for miles,” the owner said. “There’s lots
of speed and we just need to tuck inside and save some ground. Grass horses
don’t usually love dirt in their faces so hopefully he deals with that okay.
These races start around the quarter pole, where we’ll be all warmed up. A lot
of these horses are going to run out of gas – and here we come.”