Weaver thrilled with ‘marquee’ win

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May 4, 2019; Louisville, KY, USA; Javier Castellano aboard Vekoma (6) races during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Trainer George Weaver couldn’t hide his delight after Vekoma gave him the biggest win of his career by taking out the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont with a determined front-running effort, much to the luck of those who had placed a bet on the Belmont Stakes.

It was a sixth win from eight starts for the Candy Ride colt and he achieved it the hard way, making the running and seeing off seven rivals that included previous Grade 1 winners Code of Honor and McKinzie.

Though he briefly looked like he was going to get swallowed by the closing pack, Vekoma showed his class in the run to the line, powering home to win by a length and a quarter from Network Effect, with Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Code of Honor taking third spot.

“He was always this good,” Weaver said. “The only blip on his resume is the Derby and that wasn’t his day. Plus the mile and a quarter is probably a tad too long for him. The track was really gluey and he didn’t show up. Other than that, he’s been a freak.

“There are some marquee races on the calendar in New York and this is at the top of the list.”

Weaver has been training for 17 years and he earned his first Grade 1 win in 2013 when Lighthouse Bay won the Prioress Stakes.

The Louisville native has no doubts in his mind that winning the Met Mile with Vekoma tops anything he has previously managed in his training career.

“Ever since I first started working here in 1991 I would watch this race every year from the stand near the finish line. In 1996, I saddled Honour and Glory for Wayne Lukas (as his assistant trainer) when he won the Met Mile. It’s a huge thrill for me to win this race,” Weaver said.

Taking the $500,000 prize on offer was also something special for owner Randy Hill, who owns the son of Candy Ride with Gatsas Stables.

Having won last month’s Runhappy Carter Handicap, also a Grade 1 event, in emphatic fashion, Vekoma has now delivered a brace of top-level successes for his owner.

“It’s the biggest win of my life,” said Hill, who watched the race from his home in New Jersey owing to the Covid-19 attendance restrictions. “To get two Grade 1s this year, after winning just one in 20 years, these are the things you dream about when you get in the game. It’s like winning the lottery.”

The Met Mile was a “Win and You’re In” race for the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile later this year at Keeneland and both owner and trainer expressed their belief that he is very likely to go down that route.

Ahead of that, next month’s Whitney Stakes (1m1f) as well as the more likely seven-furlong Forego Stakes, both at Saratoga, are on the radar for the impressive and gutsy Met Mile winner.

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