Requite breaking his maiden at Saratoga on August 9. (Photos by NYRA/Coglinese Photos)
George Weaver has been around more than his fair share of 2-year-olds with boundless potential.
Through racetrack stints that have included more than 10 years work as an assistant for both D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher, Weaver has been associated with an array of horses with rich, regal pedigrees as well as Kentucky Derby winners like Grindstone and Thunder Gulch, Preakness and Belmont Stakes champ Tabasco Cat, and Grade 1 winners like Corporate Report, Left Bank, Balto Star and Jersey Girl.
What’s new for him is having one in his own barn.
A steady and consistent presence on the New York scene since he opened his stable in 2004, Weaver has ranked among the Top 100 in earnings in each year since then. He’s won more than 500 races in his career – including 30 so far this year - but only a couple of Grade and Group 1 stakes.
Yet Weaver is currently the midst of one of those euphoric dreams that can be inspired by only an impressive maiden 2-year-old winner at Saratoga.
On Aug. 9 at the Spa, he saddled the homebred Requite, who promptly captured an $83,000 maiden special weight affair in front-running style that opened eyes for a variety of reasons and gave Weaver a taste of the life he once knew as an assistant.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been around a horse who showed this much talent before his first start,” he said.
Aside from just a decisive winning margin, this debut effort became increasingly impressive when the competition was factored into the equation. Pletcher, the kingpin of 2-year-old racing at the Spa, had the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the race, a $320,000 son of Harlan’s Holiday named Two Weeks Off. There were two other colts in the field that were purchased for $350,000 and $175,000.
Even Lukas was represented with a son of Pioneer of the Nile for Zayat Stable.
Yet at the finish, the horse at the center of all the buzz was Requite, a colt owned and bred by Dr. Wilfred Robinson of Bermuda Limestone Thoroughbreds, who has a small string of just four runners. He won by 3 ½ lengths over Pletcher’s Two Weeks Off in a fleet 1:04.44 for the 5 ½ furlongs, and in the most telling sign that what happened was not a fluke, it was Requite, despite a price of 8-1 in the morning line, who went off as the 8-5 betting favorite ($5.50) - not Pletcher’s horse.
“I think (the wagering) was a big statement about the horse,” Weaver said. “The odds board wasn’t lying. It reflected the way he had been working and he just went out there and lived up to it."
As one might expect, Robinson’s phone number became a hot item after the race, and not just from friends thankful for the win tickets they cashed. Robinson suddenly had no shortage of potential partners for his homebred colt, but so far he has no interest in fielding offers for his handsome bay son of red-hot sire Warrior’s Reward.
“There have been inquires but the owner is an older fellow and he’s not interested in the money,” Weaver said. “He’s more excited about having a runner like him. As of now, he’s not for sale.
“It was Mr. Robinson’s dream to win a race at Saratoga for many years and it happened for him. He has a 2-year-old who broke his maiden at Saratoga and he’s on cloud nine. That’s that why we all get in this sport, it’s the fun of being around a good horse.”
The dreams born in the mountain air of Saratoga can often fade in the cold winds of fall when sprinters are asked to navigate longer distances around two turns against accomplished rivals. Many horses have started their careers like Requite, but it’s the special few that can make the transition into a bona fide Triple Crown contender.
From what’s he’s seen so far, Weaver believes Requite has the potential to make that jump. The Hopeful, a seven-furlong Grade 1 stakes on closing day at Saratoga (Sept. 1) is the next target, but the long-range goal is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 1.
“He’s a good-looking horse who has some natural speed and we’re hoping he can get more ground,” said Weaver, who is currently tied for sixth with six wins at Saratoga. “He’s got the length to get a lot of ground and that’s something that has be sorted out, but I don’t see anything in the way that he works which says he won’t. So hopefully he’ll prove us right when we stretch him out.”
To date, Weaver's lone Triple Crown starter was 34-1 longshot Greeley's Legacy, who was fifth in the 2006 Preakness, and while it’s ridiculous to even mention that series in mid-August, there’s always time to ponder the proverbial what ifs.
And that’s what most special about horses like Requite.
They fill trainers like Weaver with energy and give them more of a reason to endure the long, 7-day weeks that come with their jobs.
They also let people dream, and what’s so wrong with that?