Weaver enjoying dream ending to Spa meet Kimmel looking to strike 'Gold' in G2 Prioress
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As Saratoga's 40-day meet winds down through its final weekend, George Weaver is just heating up. Entering Friday's card, the 44-year-old trainer had won with eight of 21 starters since August 21, including six of his last 11.
A former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas as well as perennial Spa leading trainer Todd Pletcher, Weaver got off to a 3-for-40 start before his hot streak, highlighted by High Noon Rider's $25.20 upset of the Better Talk Now Stakes August 31.
"It's getting lucky, being in the right place at the right time. We don't change what we do," Weaver said. "If I'm batting five percent or 25 percent, we're doing the same thing. We have a program and we stick to it. You can't get bent out of shape when things are going slow or aren't breaking your way. It helps your morale, so I think in that way winning begets winning because it gives you positive feelings in the barn."
His recent roll moved Weaver into a tie for sixth in the trainer standings with 2008 Spa champion Kiaran McLaughlin at 11 wins. Weaver also has 13 seconds and five thirds and purse earnings of $739,662 from 61 starters.
Eight of Weaver's victories have paid in double figures including each of the last five, led by Play Unified ($43.60) on August 30. His average win mutuel is $15.11. "We're trying to get the most out of our horses and pick the best races we can for them," he said. "I guess the only way to describe it is, as hard as we work, it's gratifying when we go through a week like we just had. You feel justified getting up at 3:30 every morning, doing what you do. We're proud of the way the horses ran. The horses were running well before we went on this little streak, we just weren't getting in the win column as much as I wanted to. It's a good feeling when you train horses that are winning."
Weaver, who has three horses entered on Friday's 10-race program, can put an exclamation point on his outstanding meet with Smart Choice Stable's Fusaichi Red in Sunday's Grade 2, $300,000 Prioress.
The 3-year-old chestnut filly enters the Prioress off two straight wins, a maiden victory over her elders on July 7 at Parx and a 3 ¾-length score in the Miss Woodford Stakes 12 days later at Monmouth Park.
"Her form got quite a bit better since she came up from Florida. We wanted to keep her in a stakes race against sophomore fillies. This is one of the choices, so we decided to take a shot," Weaver said. "She won that stake at Monmouth going away and she's in good form, so that's what we've got to do."
Fusaichi Red drew post 5 in a field of 11 for the Prioress, and will be ridden by Joe Bravo at 120 pounds.
"It's going to end up being a good meet for us, however this filly runs," Weaver said. "It's been nice because it was kind of slow early on. The horses have picked it up. We've got a few more racing days and we'll do the best we can. It went from what I thought was kind of an average meet to being a pretty good meet for us."
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After two failed attempts at stretching out earlier this year, Chester and Mary Broman homebred Bar of Gold comes back for a second straight sprint in the Prioress.
Bar of Gold opened her career with three sprint victories against fellow New York-breds before taking on open company in the one-mile, Grade 1 Acorn June 6, where she finished sixth.
Trainer John Kimmel then shipped her to Delaware Park for the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks July 11. In that race, the daughter of Grade 1 Travers winner Medaglia d'Oro and granddaughter of Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid contested the lead before fading to fourth.
"She made this tremendous move and looked like she had the lead turning for home, and I was kind of expecting her to kick on," Kimmel said. "She just kind of flattened out. I don't know if it was her first two-turn experience, but I always felt she could handle two turns, or at least races longer than seven furlongs.
"I was really looking forward to it, because the way she breezes and gallops out I her breezes, it was like [distance] shouldn't be a problem. Taking that in association with her pedigree ... you would think distance was not going to limit her. Maybe we keep her at the sprint distance for this season and next year I'll try to stretch her out again."
Most recently, Bar of Gold sat in a stalking position before taking a 1 ½-length lead into the stretch, but was ultimately reeled in and passed late by Cavorting in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Longines Test August 8. Bar of Gold stayed up for second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Grade 1 winner By the Moon.
"To me, she ran the kind of race I was looking for," Kimmel said. "She ran so well, and she does have the ability to sprint as she showed in the Test. I think if that race was [six furlongs], she looked to me like she was maybe three in front at the eighth pole."
Jose Lezcano returns to ride Bar of Gold for Kimmel, a two-time Test winner (1994, 1997) and 1997 co-leading trainer whose last graded stakes win at Saratoga came with Premium Tap in the 2006 Grade 1 Woodward.
"The one thing I really like about this filly is she's just got such a great mind. Some of these horses have a tendency to get nervous and wound up, but she has been such a class act," Kimmel said. "Even shipping around, she has been such a nice horse to be around. She doesn't seem to get upset by too much. I'm looking forward to her putting up an 'A' race here. Hopefully, it will be good enough and she can work out a trip that's good enough to be competitive."
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Ralph Nicks will hope a little seasoning goes a long way when he saddles his young but talented filly Tap to It for her stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 1, $350,000 Spinaway at Saratoga. As one of six entered for the Spinaway, the 2-year-old daughter of Tapit experienced a less-than-ideal trip in her only other start but put her will to win on full display, going on to post a two-length triumph in an August 16 maiden special weight.
After breaking a step behind the field, Tap to It was shuffled back along the rail and angled to the outside by Joel Rosario. Her clear path was short-lived, however, as she then found herself behind another wall of horses at the top of the stretch and was forced to navigate through rivals en route to victory.
"She had a lot of starts and stops along the way," Nicks said of her debut. "I thought it was pretty impressive considering the adversity she had to overcome to win. It wasn't like she left the gate in front and then blew everybody away. She got away slowly and twice she had to be taken hold of, once she ducked out, she was in between horses, ate dirt. I mean, it was pretty impressive with what all happened during the running the race."
"I would think it's a lot better to have to overcome that stuff, especially coming into this kind of race," he added. "There are other first-timers in here that ran well but had either clear trips or didn't have to start and stop like she did. So with her being young and everything, I think education-wise it was very beneficial for her."
Installed at 7-2 on the morning line, Tap to It will be joined in the Spinaway by Rachel's Valentina, the much-heralded daughter of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, as well as other promising first-out winners Tonasah, Anna Rae, Constellation and Banree.
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Robert Luttrell's well-traveled Promise Me Silver will look to change her racing luck in New York when she makes her Saratoga debut in the Prioress, according to her trainer Bret Calhoun. The gray Texas-bred filly, who will be making her 11th career start over her eighth different racetrack, had put her perfect racing record on the line in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park in June, ending her eight-race win streak with a 10th-place finish.
Calhoun took another shot in New York's graded stakes ranks, this time in the Grade 3 Victory Ride in July. Breaking from the inside post, Promise Me Silver lacked running room for much of the race and finished a lukewarm fifth.
Arriving at the Spa several weeks ago, Promise Me Silver has turned in a sharp pair of breezes on the local surface in advance of her Prioress bid, most recently working four furlongs in a bullet-earning 46.46 seconds on August 28.
"She's coming into the race very well. Her breezes have really been good here," said Calhoun. "She went fast but she did it the right way. Visually, it looked like a high gallop, so I was pretty pleased with it."
Eager to avoid the traffic Promise Me Silver faced in the Victory Ride, Calhoun hoped his filly wouldn't be compromised again with an inside post position in the Prioress but wasn't completely prepared to draw the outermost post 11.
"I definitely wanted to draw outside, and I got what I wished for. It's a little farther out than I would like," he admitted. "It's either the one or the 11, I guess. I'd much rather be outside."
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A loaded field of 2-year-old fillies has lined up for Sunday's sixth race at Saratoga, a seven-furlong sprint on the main track, including half-sisters to multiple Grade 1 winners Shackleford and Bernardini, as well as a $1.9 million 2-year-old-in-training purchase.
Carella, a half-sister to Bernardini, will go out for trainer Tom Albertrani and Godolphin Racing, who campaigned Bernardini for his six-win, Eclipse Award winning sophomore campaign. Albertrani is hopeful that Carella, by Tapit out of Cara Rafaela, will follow in her half-brother's footsteps, and she may be the last of Cara Rafaela's progeny with the opportunity to do so.
"I heard the mare might be retired, so this could be one of the last ones," said Albertrani. "She seems like she's a very precocious type of filly. Her works have been promising and it looks like she's been very focused. We have some high expectations. We're very optimistic she'll make a nice first-time start for us."
While Albertrani believes Carella has a bright future, the trainer acknowledged it will be a difficult task to win at first asking in such a regally-bred field of maidens.
"There are some interesting pedigrees in there; it looks like a good group," he said. "I'm sure everyone is on the same level as we are. They're probably all very optimistic about their chances. Once we lead her over there we'll find out."
Fetching a sales-topping $1.9 million at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Inheritance will get her career underway for trainer Steve Asmussen and LNJ Foxwoods. A daughter of leading sire Tapit out of an unraced Silver Deputy mare, Inheritance breezed a furlong in 10 1/5 seconds under tack at the OBS sale and sold for $1 million more than the sale's second-highest-priced juvenile. She will have the services of Hall of Famer John Velazquez on Sunday.
Breaking from the rail and making her career debut is Sherini, a half-sister to Shackleford, who won the Grade 1 Preakness, Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, and Grade 1 Clark Handicap in his time with trainer Dale Romans. Sherini, a daughter of Bernardini, is a My Meadowview Farm homebred trained by Graham Motion.