Mike Repole doesn’t look the part.
That’s the first thing you notice when meeting the Queens native. He doesn’t look like the president of a beverage company that last year was sold to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion. And he doesn’t look like one of the most successful owners of thoroughbred horses in the country.
Yet Repole is both.
Dress to impress? Please. Not for Repole, who wears jeans, sneakers and sweatshirts at both of his offices — as president of Whitestone-based Glaceau, the makers of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, and at Belmont Park where his horses are more often than not favorites and where he’s been in the winner’s circle at a remarkable rate.
“He looks like a $2 bettor in the Grandstand having a beer on a Sunday afternoon,” said trainer Bruce Levine, who works with about 30 of Repole’s growing stable of 74 horses. “He’s just a regular guy. I don’t think you’re going to dress him up. He is what he is. You can’t knock success.”
Repole looks that way because he once was that guy. He’d take the bus down Woodhaven Boulevard to get to Aqueduct. Or he and pal John Camus, who met on the PS 128 schoolyard, would walk to the OTB on Grand Avenue, begging the nearest old man to place bets for them.
“He’s had a winning drive since the day I met him,” said Camus, who is now the vice president of logistics and customer service at Glaceau.
Repole was born in Woodside and grew up in a modest two-bedroom home in Middle Village, sharing the same bedroom with younger brother Gerard, a former New York City police officer, for 28 years.
“Growing up I wanted to be the general manger of the Mets or the St. John’s basketball coach,” Repole said. “I didn’t get either job.”
He went to Holy Cross High School and then St. John’s University, where he majored in sports management. One of his classes was Horse Track Management, taught by a former track announcer at Yonkers Raceway.
“My textbook was the Daily Racing Form,” Repole said.
Repole was far from a model student — he needed straight A’s in his 18-credit internship coaching the Christ the King basketball team to bump his grade point average up to 2.2.
He remained at Christ the King, coaching basketball, girls’ volleyball, boys’ handball and helping out with baseball. He then became the program director at the Forest Hills Community House, where he first met 9-year-old Joe Serventi.
“He was like my coach there,” said Serventi, a former Archbishop Molloy basketball player who is now the field development director at Glaceau at the age of 29. “Ever since then he’s just been there as an older brother, mentor type of guy.”
St. John’s never came calling. Neither did the Mets. But Repole, who lived in Bayside for four years after getting married before moving to the north shore of Long Island, leads Glaceau with the same mentality.
“I never got to buy the Mets or the Denver Broncos,” he said. “I ran Glaceau as my sports team. I hired young, competitive, passionate, energetic individuals.”
The Glaceau empire is located in a rather nondescript black office building just off the Whitestone Expressway. Walk up the stairs to the second floor and into Repole’s office and his love of sports is evident.
The large flat screen television on the wall is almost permanently on TVG, allowing Repole to catch races from around the country. While a computer is noticeably absent – “This is my computer,” Repole said, holding his BlackBerry — there’s an old-school mini arcade game in the corner, pictures of many of his first-place racing winners, a bookcase full of motivational books and one very large Shaquille O’Neal sneaker.
“This is not the office of a president,” Repole said.
O’Neal, who was a jockey riding a Repole horse in a successful Super Bowl commercial, is among several athletes who endorse Vitaminwater. There are also NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and linebacker Brian Urlacher, who shares Repole’s sense of humor, signing a Chicago Bears helmet, “To Repole, the company would be nothing without me.”
Queens rapper 50 Cent and country music star Carrie Underwood also endorse. As does David Wright, who began his business relationship — and friendship with Repole — four years ago.
“It hasn’t changed the person he is,” said the Mets third baseman, who owned a small share in the company and earned millions when Coke purchased Glaceau a year ago. “He’s the same old guy. He still busts on me if I have a bad game, sending me a text joking around. That’s just the kind of guy he is and he’s a good friend to have.”
Not only does Repole not look like an executive, he doesn’t play like one either. The games on the outdoor basketball court in the Glaceau parking lot are the stuff of legends. And Repole isn’t treated with kid gloves on the hardwood. As he often says “there’s no organizational chart on the basketball court.”
“If a 22-year-old intern wants to foul me and throw me into a bush, that’s OK,” he said. “In fact, if he has the guts to do that, he probably has a tremendous future in this company. That’s the type of person I want working for me.”
Ten years after founding Glaceau with Darius Bikoff, Repole is a multi-millionaire and he hasn’t yet celebrated his 40th birthday. He still has the same close-knit group of friends he’s had for 28 years. In many ways, he is the living embodiment of Vinnie Chase, the fictional movie star from Queens in the popular HBO comedy “Entourage.”
“I’m still the same guy I was when I met [my group of friends] at 13, but the only difference is we’re going to the Super Bowl, we’re going to the Kentucky Derby, we’ve got Rangers playoff tickets and we’re just having a lot of fun,” Repole said.
The next thing you realize when you meet Mike Repole is that he talks and thinks fast. He is constantly in motion and has a burning desire to succeed.
“He’s got ice water running through his veins,” said Jason Blewitt, a New York Racing Association handicapper and host of Thoroughbred Action and Talking Horses on MSG Plus. “He is completely fearless. His appetite for winning definitely exceeds an average person.”
A lifelong horse racing fan, Repole is a relative new kid on the block among thoroughbred owners. Four years ago, he purchased his first horse — Da Rodeo Man — and now has more than 100 career wins. Currently, Repole is ranked No. 10 in the country with 40 wins.
Repole has named many of the horses in Repole Stables. Among them is Mike from Queens and Benny the Waiter, named after his father, who worked as a waiter in Manhattan for 42 years.
There’s Lights Off Annie, named after his mother, a seamstress for 25 years who constantly reminded Mike to conserve energy in their Middle Village home, and No Shopping Maria, named after Mike’s wife who he said “has a little shopping hobby,” especially when her husband buys another horse.
The first time No Shopping Maria won, Repole’s wife was at a Prada boutique and used the opportunity to purchase another pair of boots. In the winner’s circle that day was Wright.
Repole has $945,690 in earnings this year, winning 23 percent of the races he enters. But of the 39 victories, the sweetest came at Belmont a few weeks ago when Cool N Collective became the first 11-year-old to win at Belmont in nearly 20 years.
“He’s a hard working old-timer that won’t quit, won’t give up and just goes out there and makes the young ones look foolish,” Repole said of Cool N Collective. “I fall in love with a horse like that.”
Earlier in the month, Repole went to the Kentucky Derby for the first time and was immediately hooked.
“Being there just gave me that extra little fire of wanting to be there, seeing all the great horses, watching 157,000 fans,” Repole said.
He’s already taken that next step, buying 12 yearlings last year, two of which Repole thinks could be special, and he has plans to purchase another 10 to 15 at the yearling sales later this year.
But just because he buys horses with solid pedigrees doesn’t mean they’re a sure thing.
“In a year and a half, you’re going to know if you’ve got Big Brown or Joe Brown,” he said.
Repole, though, has the desire and financial means to get to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, Pimlico or at the Belmont Stakes. And Blewitt, for one, isn’t about to bet against Repole.
“It’s going to happen,” Blewitt said. “The guy is in this for life.”
Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at dbutler@ti
©2008 Community News Group
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