George Weaver is on fire. There’s no other way to put it.
With three wins from five starts, including his most recent score with Lighthouse Bay in Saturday’s Grade 1 Prioress Stakes, Weaver’s stable has already earned more than half of what he captured at last year’s Saratoga meet.
The winner of three of six herself, Lighthouse Bay didn’t get much support and went to the post at more than 22-1. She wasn’t the longest price in the race, but delivered a big upset when she fended off a desperate challenge from Wildcat Lily through the final furlong to win by a half-length. She got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.29 in her third career stakes win.
“It’s a less pressure situation when you’re 20-1 on the board,” said Weaver, satisfaction evident in his tone. “We knew we were taking a shot. I certainly didn’t think it was impossible for her to win. I was pretty relaxed. Honestly, in Philadelphia I’m more nervous because we’re four to five and supposed to win. With a race like this we’re rolling the dice and if she doesn’t run well it’s easy after the fact to say we’ll just find an easier race. It was certainly enjoyable.”
Lighthouse Bay was on the board in five of her six starts, with three wins, but was making the leap from the listed Jostle Stakes to a Grade 1. She was third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, two starts back in the Miss Preakness at Pimlico and fifth, beaten nearly five lengths, in an optional claimer in her seasonal debut April 4 at Gulfstream.
Afterwards, owner Evelyn Pollard made her way through the crowded Saratoga clubhouse straight from the winner’s circle to the Trustees Room to celebrate her filly’s first graded stakes win with a little champagne. Pollard, who bred Lighthouse Bay in the name of her and husband Richard’s Richlyn Stables, found a chair at one of the nearest tables and took a seat, champagne glass in hand.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said, letting out a deep exhale. “I’ve always had faith in her. She’s so good. She’s so cool. She’s so cool. I love her to pieces.”
A Kentucky-bred by Speightstown out of the Seeking The Gold mare Pay Lady, Lighthouse Bay was named after the area where Richlyn Farm’s business operates from, Lighthouse Point, Florida.
“Her name is Lighthouse Bay,” Pollard said. “We tried to get Lighthouse Point for our girl, but that was already taken. What we normally do is name the girls after the bays and the boys after the counties.”
As Pollard caught her breath and let the events sink in, more and more people piled into the room to congratulate her. One of them was Weaver.
“I trust that Georgie,” Pollard said. “I have so much faith in him. We’ve been together, well, going on 11 years. We were one of his first clients. ‘Let George do it.’ That’s my motto. And he certainly did.”
Jockey Joe Rocco Jr., aboard the filly for the first time, did it, too. He rode Lighthouse Bay in and out of traffic through the 6 furlongs on the dirt, stayed busy on the filly in the stretch and left others like Irish Lute, So Many Ways and 1-2 favorite Kauai Katie behind.
“The closer we got to the stretch, the easier I was getting to them,” Rocco said. “When the rail opened up and I saw we were going to get through, I just shot on through there. She was very comfortable. I had a lot of horse they whole way.”
Adding another Grade 1 win to his resume opens doors reserved for the privileged few. Earlier in the week he won the $100,000 Evan Shipman Stakes on 26-1 pickup mount Bigger is Bettor. Saturday he found himself back in the winner’s circle, twice, with the first win on a Grade 1 winner.
“It’s fantastic, Saratoga’s the pinnacle of horse racing,” Rocco said. Just to be here feels good, but to get lucky and win some stakes means so much.”