LOUISVILLE, KY. — In a different world, Vinnie Viola and Mike Repole might clash — two New York guys who made fortunes based on their outsized personalities and aggressive instincts.
In the realm of high-stakes thoroughbred racing, they're partners.
Viola and Repole co-own Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso, and their union is the norm rather than the exception for the top Kentucky Derby contenders in 2018. Scan the connections for these big-ticket animals, and it's hard to find one owned by a single farm or family. Partnerships are the name of the game.
"This game, this sport, is the most humbling challenge a person can take on. It only helps when you've got a partner who is also as passionately engaged in the sport as you are," said Viola, who co-owned 2017 Derby champion Always Dreaming with another longtime New York racing fan, Anthony Bonomo.
Even with two high-powered businessmen from different worlds, the potential points of disagreement are few, especially if the partners share a relationship with a prominent trainer, as Repole and Viola do with Todd Pletcher.
"I mean, the biggest decision you make, once you buy the horse, is who you send it to, to train," said Viola, who made his money in the financial services industry. "And we're both Todd guys. So that's like 90 percent of it. I'm sure there are scenarios where Mike and I might look at each other and say, 'You think this, I think that.' But it's pretty easy, and you see that trend happening more and more."
Repole, who made his fortune in the beverage industry, owns another Derby horse, Noble Indy, in partnership with WinStar Farm. Again, Pletcher is the common link.
He said these pairings simply make sense, given the supply and demand in modern racing.
"There's a smaller foal crop, and people are either with Chad Brown, they're with Bob Baffert or they're with Todd Pletcher," Repole explained. "I think a lot of times you go to sales and you want the same three horses that are all going to end up going to Todd anyway. So you look and say, 'Hey, we're bidding on this horse and so are you. I'm going up to [$800,000] and so are you. So why don't we team up together and get the horse for [$450,000] instead of somebody going to [$810,000].' I think for me, the common denominator … is I'll go partners with you but it's got to be with Todd Pletcher."
Pletcher is perfectly happy to be the glue in these arrangements. He'll saddle four horses in Saturday's Derby, and only one, Magnum Moon, is owned by a single family.
"I think we've seen a trend, if you look at the auctions, of people teaming up to buy horses together," he said. "And I think it's probably something we'll see a little more of in the near future."
Vino Rosso's jockey, Johnny Velazquez, wore Repole's silks in winning the Wood Memorial. He'll wear Viola's silks in the Derby.
No one's complaining about having to share.
Mendelssohn’s trainer speaks
Mendelssohn's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, finally appeared at the track Friday morning after arriving from Ireland on Thursday.
He said the 5-1 second choice in the morning line is in fine form, despite the fact that he won't have much time on the Churchill Downs dirt before the start of the Derby.
"He just did a gentle canter yesterday and just did a little bit quicker today, but it's really just showing him around the place and the track," O'Brien said. "We've been very happy with him. We haven't overdone him. It's only been five weeks since Dubai and of course four weeks with the travel. He had a good, strong race in Dubai. He's here fresh, rather than [having been] hard on him, if you know what I mean."
He said that similar to Derby favorite Justify, Mendelssohn is likely to go out quickly and sit just off the early lead Saturday.
O'Brien also explained a trait that caught many observers' ears when Mendelssohn trained Thursday morning: He's a loud horse who almost screams as he runs.
"He has a big personality. We always try to encourage our horses to develop a personality, and he has developed a big one," the trainer said. "Even though he's vocal and cries out and calls to other horses, he's not coltish and doesn't draw or show. It's more a mental thing than anything."
Monomoy Girl wins Kentucky Oaks
Pre-race favorite Monomoy Girl held off a mighty charge from Wonder Gadot on Friday afternoon to win an exciting Kentucky Oaks.
The filly, trained by Louisville resident Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, won for the sixth time in seven career starts, delivering a signature performance in the $1 million sister race to the Derby.
"She's blessed with unbelievable talent and she gives her best every time," Cox said.
Monomoy Girl is partially owned by Sol Kumin, the former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player who also owns pieces of three Derby contenders.