Mike Repole grew up going to Aqueduct and Belmont Park, where the seeds were planted for his horse racing fandom.
The Queens native and current thoroughbred owner won’t be able to return to Belmont on Wednesday for his delayed opening day, but the importance of horse racing as the first sport to return to New York from the coronavirus pandemic is not lost on him. . .
“I think return races in general are great for the sport. But the return races in New York, I think, are even bigger, ”Repole, the owner of Repole Stables, told The Post. “Obviously, the pandemic and so many cases hit New York … I think it is even more special that Belmont is opening.” It is one thing for someone to be quarantined and seeing Tampa Bay Downs or seeing Gulfstream.
“But the ability to know that, you know what, there is a ray of hope in the future because that track, half an hour from me, 10 minutes from me, one hour from me, is doing business, I think it gives the People have some hope and promise that although there will be a new normality, at least we will reach a certain sense of normality. “
Repole will have a personal interest in racing, particularly in Wednesday’s third race, when his 2-year-old maiden, Todd Pletcher-trained Prisoner, prepares for a 5 furlons race with rider Irad Ortiz Jr. on board.
Despite Repole’s local roots, Prisoner may have a hard time becoming a fan favorite, not when a horse named Fauci runs alongside him. But Repole has high hopes.
“When they usually start and we like them, if he breaks his maiden, you talk about hope for the future and being a 2 and 3 year old Derby champion and maybe one day I will win the Belmont bets, like something I’ve dreamed of since I was a 13-year-old boy, ”said the St. John graduate.
While Repole said running was his last concern in recent months, as COVID-19 plagued the country, he had yet to decide what to do with his horses in the meantime. He sent half of them to a farm in Ocala, Florida, to rest while the other half went with Pletcher to Gulfstream Park in Florida, where racing never stopped.
Now, they’re sending horses back to New York with Belmont reopening for races on Wednesday and Saratoga opening for training on Thursday.
Like fans, homeowners don’t have a permit at Belmont yet, but Repole has the highest priority.
“My thinking today that there are no fans is very different from what it was three months ago,” he said. “The main concern is the safety of people. We always talk about horse racing, how important horse safety is, but this has changed now that the safety of people who work with these horses is in jeopardy every day they also go out. ”
Precautions have been taken in the Belmont stretch to protect the health and safety of its workers as training continues throughout the pandemic despite a lack of careers. Those efforts have brought everyone “a little closer,” Repole said, and opened the door for racing to return to New York.
“Hopefully horse racing first, and then the Rangers, Knicks, Nets and Islanders, and Mets and Yankees, and football start and control this virus and try to stay ahead of the curve,” said Repole.
“We need something to lean on. Being in New York and New York being hit so hard, there is going to be a very good feeling about a sporting event in New York that will be different than the opening of sports in general. “