George Weaver once won a top-level race with Saratoga County.
He had never won one in Saratoga County, though, or the rest of the United States, for that matter.
That changed on Saturday.
The 42-year-old trainer from Louisville, Ky., got the first Grade I of his career on this side of the Atlantic Ocean when Lighthouse Bay, the second-longest shot on the board, caught Wildcat Lily for a half-length victory in the Prioress at Saratoga Race Course.
Not only did Lighthouse Bay, a daughter of former sprint champion Speightstown, outrun her odds, but she beat two fillies, Kauai Katie and So Many Ways, who came into the Prioress 2-for-2 at Saratoga, having swept the graded stakes for 2-year-old fillies last year.
Asked for background on his success in Grade I races at Saratoga, Weaver said with a chuckle, “This is my first Grade I in this country.”
“It’s been awhile.”
Saratoga County won the Group 1 $2 million Golden Shaheen in 2005 for Weaver and owners Richard and Evelyn Pollard of Richlyn Farm.
The victory by Lighthouse Bay was extra special for the Pollards because they also bred her out of the Seeking the Gold mare Pay Lady.
The Prioress was also the second Grade I in the career of jockey Joe Rocco Jr., after Tiz Miz Sue’s win in the Ogden Phipps a month earlier to the day.
Lighthouse Bay, who finished second by 101⁄4 lengths in her career debut at Saratoga last year, went off at 21-1 and started a $1,244 trifecta that did not include either of the two big names, Kauai Katie and So Many Ways.
She was a two-time stakes winner, but was making her first start in a graded stakes after Weaver backed out of a shot at the Grade III Victory Ride at Belmont Park in late June.
Plans to run in a race on Monday that didn’t fill, anyway, were scrapped when it became apparent that the Prioress wouldn’t be drawing very many entries.
“I had her in the Victory Ride, and I thought that she’d be capable of maybe doing this at some point,” Weaver said. “When this race came up with a short field, we decided with the owners to go ahead and run in this race. Her Beyer figures are a little light, but I looked at the [Ragozin] sheet numbers, and the sheets put her a little closer to things. Thinking Ju Ju Eyeballs was going to scratch, and a six-horse field, it left us with what I thought was a good chance to at least get Grade I stakes-placed.
“And you never know, you might hit a home run, and we did.”
Lighthouse Bay did so by stalking the pace of Wildcat Lady, never more than three lengths out of it.
Kauai Katie, winner of the 2012 Adirondack, went off at 2-5 under John Velazquez, endured a bump from Little Rocket at the start, chased Wildcat Lily and So Many Ways down the backstretch, but couldn’t gain on anybody as they straightened into the top of the stretch.
She faded to last.
“She just didn’t really fire today,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Johnny said she warmed up beautiful, left there a little flat and never really picked it up.”
“I was asking her the whole way and she wasn’t giving me anything,” Velazquez said.
So Many Ways, winner of the 2012 Schuylerville and Spinaway, at least appeared to be in position under Joel Rosario to make something happen, sitting just off Wildcat Lily.
Like Kauai Katie, though, she backed up from the field entering the stretch and settled for fourth.
Lighthouse Bay, meanwhile, was able to close into what was a reasonable pace in the six-furlong race.
“The three horses I thought were the horses to beat in the race all kind of lined up in front of me,” Rocco said. “I was able to get to the rail and save ground behind them. When I called on her to shoot through on the rail, I had plenty of horse.”