George Weaver won 11 races at Saratoga in 2014 and 12 last year. In the midst of another strong upstate season, he'll need four over the meet's final nine racing days to keep the improvement going. (Editor's note: Originally published in Aug. 27 issue of The Saratoga Special.)
"Nine wins, and the meet's not over," he said while standing in his shedrow Thursday morning. "It's so tough to win up here. As you go into the meet, you have this fear that you're not going to make a good showing. People see you win up here, it's the big stage. Everybody's watching."
Weaver and his wife Cindy oversee a stable of about 80 horses - 27 on the Oklahoma side, 22 at the harness track, plus a string at Belmont Park. A former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Weaver trained his first runner in 2002 and won 58 races last year (the second-highest of his career).
He went through the Oklahoma barn with The Special's Joe Clancy.
Majestic Bonnie: In the first stall next to the office, Bona Venture Stable's 2-year-old filly won her debut going 1 1/16 miles here at 12-1 July 24 and could turn up next in the P.G. Johnson Stakes Sept. 1. "She had enough ability, but up here in maiden special weights you're not the only one over there that has ability. Things went well and she performed very well. A lot of people have theories that the first stall is the best horse in the barn or one of the boss' favorites. I am a big fan of hers, but my office is right next door so I need somebody who's not going to be tearing the wall down and knocking stuff off the wall in there. I need a calm one in that spot and she's great."
Achnaha: Owned by Sanford Bacon's Bacon Barn, the Irish-bred 5-year-old mare has won twice in 22 starts, but has also placed in six stakes. The daughter of Haatef finished third in the Fasig-Tipton Waya Aug. 6 (at 21-1) and aims at the Glens Falls Sept. 3. "She's been running real well all year, third in the Waya and flying at the end. She doesn't have much speed and we've tried to change her. We've tinkered with it, but she's like 'No, that's not the way I'm going to run.' She likes to sit back and come running. That's her personality. She knows what she likes and what she doesn't. She's doing real well."
Zero Zee: Purchased for $125,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga last year, the 2-year-old daughter of High Cotton scored at 19-1 here Aug. 12 going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf and could come back for the P.G. Johnson but is more likely to run in September. Owned by Matt Schera, the Florida-bred has been speedy since the start. "She lit up the tote board. She's always been real quick, sometimes a little quicker than she needs to be. She's a very forward-training filly. You want them to run when you want them to, not when they want to. I was really concerned that she was going to show speed and just run as fast as she could as far as she could and have trouble with the last furlong. She did the exact opposite. She broke out of there, found a nice stalking position in about fifth and when they turned for home she turned it on. We were pretty proud of her for doing that. In the morning she kind of wants to rip."
Saratoga Colonel: New York-bred 2-year-old by Colonel John sold to Spa City Stable for $80,000 here last year and just arrived to train for a fall debut. "We're just getting to know him. He was at Webb Carroll's place in South Carolina and went to our barn at Belmont for a couple weeks. I wanted to bring him up here and let him see the scenery."
Saturday Bliss: The New York-bred daughter of Any Given Saturday won her first two starts at Aqueduct in 2014, but spent two years away from the races. The Fasig-Tipton graduate returned with a ninth in June and an 11th in July. She rebounded a bit to finish third here Aug. 3 and is in a $50,000 claimer here Monday. "She started out her career impressively and then ended up needing two years off, and I own a third of her (with R and H Stable). We tried to bring her back twice, she came up with problems. We're looking for a little bit of a performance boost."
High Noon Rider: R.A. Hill Stable's 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt won a stakes here last summer, but rides a five-race losing streak including a ninth here Aug. 22. The bay colt has won three times and was in the middle of a nap when Weaver stopped by the stall door. "One of my comparisons when you try to explain to owners about horses is 2-year-old races are like high-school athletics, 3-year-old races are like college, 4-and-up is like the pros. He's trying to find his way in the pros right now. He might be a little like Tim Tebow, we'll see. He's a very nice horse to be around, everybody likes him."
Isotherm: Matt Schera's 3-year-old Lonhro colt took the Weaver barn to the big stage last year when he won the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes to earn a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Fifth in the Hall of Fame here Aug. 5, he eyes a start in the Saranac here Sept. 3. "The Hall of Fame was his first race off a (seven-month) layoff and he ran well. A little better trip would have helped. He's doing real well."
Malibu Stacy: Jim and Susan Hill's 3-year-old Tizway filly won here Aug. 18 after finishing second in the Grade 3 Victory Ride at Belmont. "She was entered in the Test (Aug. 6), and we decided to go the conservative route so we came back in a one other than and got a win. She might come back in the Prioress, it's back on short rest but we're looking at it."
Requite: After winning the Parrot Key Stakes at Gulfstream Park in his 2016 debut June 4, Bermuda Limestone Thoroughbreds' 4-year-old Warrior's Reward colt finished eighth in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt here July 30. "This is one of our fastest horses, he just didn't show up (in the Vanderbilt). We've been battling quarter cracks and having feet problems, but the horse is real talented. When you watch him train you say, 'Man I wish I had a barn full like him.' He'll probably run in the Vosburgh or something at Belmont. We're trying to make it to the Breeders' Cup. We feel like he has enough talent to do so, but we've got to get him there right."
Chichmeister: An unraced 2-year-old colt by Bodemeister worked 3 furlongs here Aug. 19 and will aim for a fall debut while learning his lessons. "We like him, he's not going to run at the meet though."
Mo Maverick: The unraced Uncle Mo 2-year-old colt shows seven works at Saratoga in July and August and might make a start before the meet ends. "He's a New York-bred and he's been doing well in the morning. Uncle Mo really stamps them with some athleticism. He'd have a chance to run here."
Category Two: Purchased by Schera at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga last summer, the Virginia-bred colt is a half-sister to $451,000 earner Hello Lover and $301,000 earner Miss Lombardi. The son of Tale Of The Cat looks to get started in the fall.
Doms Pizza Empire: Owned by Big Dom Racing Stable, the 2-year-old Soaring Empire gelding sold at the Fasig-Tipton mixed sale here last fall and added his own quotes - two massive breaths into the recorder and a nibble on the notebook - to the interview. "It's the silks with the pizza guy on it. You know them. He won't run here, but we like him. He acts like he can run a little bit."
Flyoff: His name sounds like a command to keep bugs out of the barn, but the bay 2-year-old colt by Get Stormy worked on the turf here Aug. 19 and is headed toward a fall debut after being purchased at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old sale in May. "We like him. Remember Get Stormy, that nice horse Tom Bush had? We ran into a couple roadblocks with this horse, but I love him."
Thundering Sky: The Sky Mesa 3-year-old filly finished fifth for Schera in the Lake George here July 22, her seventh start this year. The Fasig-Tipton Saratoga graduate will get freshened for race this fall. "She didn't get beat all that far (in the Lake George), but we'll pick something in September. She's been going for a long time and we felt like a little gap between races would help her get to the next one."
Super Marina: The 2-year-old Warrior's Reward filly has run twice at the meet - eighth behind Majestic Bonnie on the turf July 24 and fourth "by default" on the dirt Aug. 14. Weaver will get her back to the turf next time. "She got a little tired last time. She set the pace and hung on for as long as she could."
Heated Verdict: West Point Thoroughreds' 3-year-old Court Vision gelding broke his maiden here last summer and makes his 2016 debut Monday. "He's been on the shelf for a while, and it will be nice to get him back to the races."
Reason To Soar: Another West Point runner, the 2-year-old lives in what a visitor might call the barn's porch. There are no Adirondack chairs, but the outdoor stall agrees with the son of Soaring Empire. "We like this colt. He's a real handsome dude and he carries himself well. He likes it out here. I think it's the best stall in the barn. He can watch horses get turned out, he watches stuff come and go all day."