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Derby notes: Repole a bundle of nerves, excitement

LOUISVILLE — At this point, the biggest source of stress for owner Mike Repole is the same thing that can bring him his greatest sense of relief.

On one hand, the 42-year-old Queens native is on the verge of seeing materialize his dream of starting a horse in the Kentucky Derby. He has both juvenile champion Uncle Mo and graded stakes winner Stay Thirsty on track for Saturday's classic.

Problem is for the famously hyper businessman is there are still six full days of potential pitfalls to avoid before he actually arrives at the moment he wants to savor.

"On Thursday we have 100 people coming in, and that's going to be a lot of fun," Repole said Sunday. "Ninety-nine people are going to have a great time until that race, and I'll be the one who will be miserable.

"I want to enjoy the moment. I just know how I Want Revenge the day of the Derby got scratched. So until they get into that starting gate..."

With their owner nervously yet excitedly looking on, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty got through one of the last major hurdles Sunday when they worked 5 furlongs together in their final serious pre-Derby move.

Breezing two Derby contenders together is a bit of an anomaly, but Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty had worked alongside one another before, including prior to Uncle Mo's triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The two bay colts complemented each other again over a sloppy Churchill Downs track. Uncle Mo broke off to the outside of his stablemate and covered the distance in 1.01:60 while clocking splits of :12.80, :25.40, :37.20, :49.20 with gallop out times of 1:14.20 and 1:28.

Stay Thirsty held his own in the move, clocking in at 1.01:80 while recording fractions of :13, :25.40, :37.40, :49.40.

"It was a textbook kind of work for what we generally try and structure," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who conditions both colts. "Both horses seemed to handle the off going well. That's what we were wanting to see, and it indicates to me both horses are fit and coming up to the race in good order."

Ever since Uncle Mo was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal tract infection following his third-place finish in the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 9, the intense interest on the colt's every move has been brought up to new levels.

The son of Indian Charlie has reportedly regained his appetite and will have his treatment scaled back leading up to the Derby.

If Repole has any influence in the matter — and he most certainly does — the most accomplished colt in the likely Derby field will also regain his status as the race favorite in the coming days.

"(Oddsmaker) Mike Battaglia will probably make him the second favorite or third choice, but by the time that bells rings for post time, he will be the favorite."

Stockier and more unheralded than his stablemate, Stay Thirsty also has his connections feeling boastful on his behalf with the way he has trained at Churchill Downs.

Pletcher called Sunday's move "the best work I've even seen" from the son of Bernardini and suggests pundits draw a line through the colt's seventh-place finish in the Grade I Florida Derby.

"The Florida Derby was just a strange race for a lot of horses," Pletcher said. "Stay Thirsty came to the paddock, and he was completely drenched. It wasn't like a wash out ... it was almost an overheating-type thing. And it was 92 degrees.

"I don't know if the heat affected a number of horses, but it seemed like a peculiar race."

Pants On Fire works

Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire had his last breeze in anticipation of his start in the Kentucky Derby, covering 4 furlongs in :47.80 at Churchill on Sunday.

With jockey Rosie Napravnik up, Pants On Fire galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 after breaking off just seconds behind Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty.

Dianne Cotter's Toby's Corner had his final move in the sanctuary of Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland on Sunday, breezing 6 furlongs in 1:15. The son of Bellamy Road is slated to ship to Louisville on Tuesday.

"The most important thing to me was that he didn't go off too fast and that he finished up nicely," trainer Graham Motion said of the move.

Grade I winner Comma to the Top completed his major preparations in California, working 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 at Hollywood Park.

Bejarano gets Derby ride

The last open ride for the Kentucky Derby has been filled. Kathleen O'Connell, trainer of Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go, said Rafael Bejarano would ride the dark bay colt for the first time on Saturday.

"He's a good, strong finisher, he's a good judge of pace, and he knows Churchill Downs," O'Connell said of Bejarano.

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