by Dean Hoffman
photo: Bill Weaver and Valley Victory
William B. Weaver, a Hall of Fame harness breeder with monumental influence on trotting, died on Wednesday (Feb. 10) at age 79.
Weaver died after a series of health woes in recent years. He was a longtime resident of Freehold, NJ.
Those who knew Bill Weaver agree that it’s impossible to replace his type of horse owner.
Ironically, Weaver simply couldn’t figure out why anyone would support him for the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Historically, Weaver will be best known as the breeder of the breed-changing Valley Victory. Yet, he demurred in taking any credit for that accomplishment.
“I had a mare and a booking to Baltic Speed,” he often told me. “That was it.”
He was too modest, too unassuming, and too reclusive to believe that he merited the sport’s highest honor. Yet Weaver was duly inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Weaver’s personal qualities endeared him to those who knew him. Unlike some who have campaigned for Hall of Fame status, Weaver shied away from it like a half-broke horse from a cherry bomb. Weaver shunned the limelight. He never sought attention, even at sales where he was often a big spender.
While he was content to stand in the shadows in racing, the horses he bred stood in the spotlight. Weaver liked things that way.
Murray Brown, who often dealt with Weaver when the was buying and selling at Harrisburg, simply called Weaver, “one of the finest persons it’s been my privilege to have known.”
Weaver went first-class in his breeding stock and also in the people he used to manage his horses. His mares were kept at Concord Farm with David Meirs in central New Jersey and he sold his yearlings through Carter Duer’s Peninsula Farm for many years. There is no one more respected than Duer in prepping a yearling. Neither Weaver nor Duer was a back-slapping gadabout, but they went first-class and it paid off.
Weaver had enormous impact was when his yearling stock sold at auction. They were bred in the purple and Carter Duer’s crew prepared them so that they shined like the pants of a cheap suit in the sales ring. Bidders responded with enthusiasm and repeated bids.
Because of his low-profile participation in harness racing, few people knew Weaver until Valley Victory brought his name to the forefront of the sport. But his participation goes back many decades.
In fact, Weaver owned The Prophet, a son of Spectator that finished second to Lindy’s Pride in the 1969 Hambletonian. The Prophet was trained and driven by Harold Dancer, Sr. and, as a resident of New Jersey. Weaver had a long association with the Dancer family. Weaver often laughed as he lamented that he had little luck with this racing stock, but hope sprang eternal with him. He kept horses in training with such high-class trainers as Paul Kelley, Doug Miller and others.
Kelley came to know Weaver well when he sold the filly Sunday Yankee to him in 2003.
“Bill told me he’d buy her under one condition,” recalls Kelley. “And that was that I continue to train her. I was flabbergasted. That was a win-win situation for me. It was a relationship that lasted many years.”
Kelley developed many trotting stars for Weaver, including the top lass Quick Credit 2,1:56, a winner of more than a half-mile and dam of the 2012 juvenile trotting champ Wheeling N Dealin.
“Bill had his greatest success with trotting fillies,” Kelley said. “He was always looking for the next great broodmare.”
Kelley loved Weaver’s sense of humor.
“We had a lot of fun because Bill was a big Yankees fan, and I was raised in New England, so I was a Red Sox fan,” says Kelley. “He loved to bust my chops when the Yankees beat the Red Sox. When Boston finally broke the jinx and won the World Series in 2004, I bought a Boston Globe newspaper and sent it to Bill.”
Weaver called to acknowledge receipt of the newspaper, then told Kelley, “That will make for good wrapping paper when I need some.”
Kelley said that Weaver could roll with the punches that inevitably hit any owner in horse racing.
“He knew the game, and loved the game,” he said. “You simply cannot replace owners like Bill Weaver.”
Doug Miller trained the stakes-winning Lindy Lane fillies Coulantine 3, 1:53.3 and Macaria Hanover 2, 1:55, among others, for Weaver.
Miller pointed out that Weaver not only bred the juvenile trotting colt champion Wheeling N Dealin in 2012, but also the champion juvenile filly To Dream On.
“That’s remarkable,” Miller said. “He did that from something like 22 broodmares. It would be different if Hanover did it from its 350 mares, but Bill did that from just a handful of mares. I’m not sure that will ever be duplicated.”
Miller called Weaver “the finest and most generous owner I’ve ever had.”
“Bill was really from the old school,” he says. “He knew the business and that bad things could happen. He accepted that. When good things happened, Bill considered that a bonus. He didn’t fly, so he never came to Florida in the winter to watch his horses train, but he loved to watch them in New Jersey, and he was very astute when he watched them race.
“I know I’ll never have another owner like him,” said Miller.
It’s a colt!
As noted, Bill Weaver had a piquant sense of humor and I was on the receiving end of it more than once. In late May, 2005 when Chocolatier, a precocious young trotter bred and sold by Weaver, won a baby race at Hazel Park, I ripped off a brief item for the USTA Newsroom. In my haste, I referred to the winner as a filly, perhaps thinking that Chocolatier was fitting name for a filly. After all, females have a notorious passion for chocolate.
Bill never let me forget that slip. He found it endlessly funny and ribbed me by saying he hoped that I’d learn the difference between girls and boys sooner or later. I deserved all that abuse, too.