Grade 1 Barn

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Sunday morning, George Weaver and Cindy Hutter were back at work. 

He was sitting tall in a western saddle, heels down, spurs ready, aboard the stable pony. She was galloping a tough one on the Oklahoma training track. At the barn, at 9:20, there were still two sets to train. Four horses walked on the wood chip path, three others stood tacked and ready in the center, a little bit of rain fell. Jese the Labrador, dozed in the dirt. Jena, the Jack Russell, looked for action.

Halfway down the shedrow, Lighthouse Bay snoozed – looking tired, satisfied and just like a Grade 1 winner. The 3-year-old filly upset Saturday’s Prioress to give the Weaver barn its first graded stakes win at Saratoga and just the second group or graded win ever. He’s the trainer and husband. She’s the exercise rider, assistant trainer and wife. 

Saturday was a big day.

“We put a lot into what we do,” George said between sets. “We win races, but with big races like that . . . it’s hard to come by those type of horses even when you have the money to try to buy them. It’s rewarding. You get up seven days a week, some days you’re like ‘Man are we doing the right thing?’ That’s what makes it all tick. It was pretty easy getting up this morning, I can tell you that.”

Cindy agreed, albeit hoarsely.

“It was unbelievable and so much fun to see her coming down the stretch,” she said. “I was afraid she was going to get nailed at the wire and we were going to be devastated. Sometimes you really wonder when you work so hard and don’t get anything. Well, not anything. We win, but to get one of those really hits home.”

George and Cindy spent time with plenty of Grade 1 winners while working for Todd Pletcher. They have also put their hands on more than their share of winners. They won the Dubai Golden Shaheen with Saratoga County. Weaver’s year-end statistics annually hit 50 to 60 winners from 300 to 400 starters. The horses are based in Saratoga from May through November and came up with 11 wins here last summer, seven the year before. Thus far in 2013, they’ve won four of 10 including a Grade 1.  He’s tied for third in the standings.

Handicappers are talking about his “hot” barn. Sunday, the OTB show made him a guest. A Twitter post cheered “It’s George Weaver’s world . . . we’re just living in it” the other day.

Sunday morning, well-wishers paraded past the barn – tucked into the center of Horse Haven and just across a road from Pletcher’s base on the Oklahoma side. John Velazquez, Angel Cordero, Lenny Pike, Matt Muzikar, a few writers, Sovereign Stable’s Rich Cristiano and five kids in a golf cart, Lighthouse Bay’s owners Dick and Evelyn Pollard stopped by. Somebody hollered that the victory should have been obvious once Cindy was spotted at the races. Former trainer Frank Alexander (now an owner in the barn) tried to keep things in check by questioning the trainer’s math.

“You win a Grade 1 and now you can’t add,” he said when Weaver told an exercise rider to gallop 1 ¼ miles from the eighth pole to the seven-eighths pole on the Oklahoma track. Weaver was right, Alexander probably knew it, but even calculus couldn’t dim the mood of a Grade 1 victory at Saratoga. 

“I’d never won a graded stakes up here, let alone a Grade 1,” George said. “That was exciting, and to do it with a longshot, a horse that wasn’t really expected to win added more to it, too.”

Sent off at better than 21-1, Lighthouse Bay came into the Prioress with three wins in six starts. She’d won stakes at Parx and Laurel, but she was tangling with accomplished runners Kauai Katie and So Many Ways in a field of seven in the program (six after a scratch by post time). The Pollards hoped for a Grade 1 placing to help their mare Pay Lady. Weaver knew he was taking a shot, but allowed himself to think a little bigger.

“Every once in a while you’re in a situation where you know you’re in over your head and we didn’t feel that way,” he said. “We knew we needed a few things to go our way, but I didn’t feel like we were in over our head. I thought she had a very good chance to hit the board and luckily that turned into more. She hit the board all right.”

To celebrate, the Weavers – who also ran a horse in the 11th – went to dinner at Leon’s where Cindy said the feat finally “sunk in a little bit,” then to bed. 

“We keep horses happy,” she said when asked what they do well. “We do little things like take them to the round pen, let them graze, let them walk and do things before they even go to the track. I think little things make a difference. And we do well together. He gets to do more of the owners and the PR part, I’m more the worker with the horses. We both have our say and it seems to work that way.”