Racing: Weaver takes straight route to top: The season's second most successful rider is determined to step even higher. Greg Wood reports

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The Independent Online
'IT WAS down to me to make it work.' The words, repeated several times as Jason Weaver recalls the stopping-off points of his short career, are a first hint of the confidence and determination which have taken him to the top of his profession in his first full season as a senior jockey.

Weaver has been making it work to such effect that, at the age of 22, he is on course to become only the seventh jockey in British turf history to ride 200 winners in a season. Milngavie gave him his first success of the year at Wolverhampton on 3 January and he has since added 169 more, including three Group One victories, each for a different trainer. Scan down the jockeys' list and you will discover such well-known riders as Willie Carson, Walter Swinburn and Michael Roberts trailing Weaver by 100 winners. A new generation is taking charge.

So far, Weaver has been content to slipstream Lanfranco Dettori, the champion-elect, but next season the championship will be a serious, and realistic, ambition, and one which does not surprise those who have been associated with Weaver's rise to prominence.

'He came to me straight from school, and then again after the British Racing School,' Luca Cumani, who shaped the early progress of both Weaver and Dettori, said this week. 'You could see from the beginning that he was a young lad who wanted to go places. He was very single-minded about wanting to be a jockey.'

For Weaver, life in the saddle was a logical career choice. 'I was always interested in fast things, motorbikes and what have you,' he said recently, during a rare gap in his schedule, 'and I was also interested in ponies from quite a young age. Then when I was 16 my mother asked me what I wanted to do. I was about eight and a half stone and only three feet tall, so I was quite fat. I said that I wanted to be a jockey, she put me on a diet of boiled rice and apples for six weeks, and then I wrote off to the racing school at Newmarket and went to do a course there.'

At first sight, Weaver's subsequent progress appears effortless: a profitable spell with Cumani, a shrewd move to become stable jockey to Mark Johnston at Middleham, a first Classic winner on Mister Baileys in the 2,000 Guineas. Beneath the surface, of course, the legs are paddling furiously.

'It was fantastic to ride a Classic winner,' Weaver said, 'but you've got to keep the ball rolling. It's not just, right, that's it, thank you very much, it's easy now. A lot of people might sit back, but it doesn't work like that.'

It is a thoughtful attitude which typifies Weaver's approach. 'He's intelligent and he can put himself across well to the owners,' Johnston says. 'That's something that most jockeys lack, so it gives Jason an edge before he even sits on a horse. Then once he's on the horse's back he's very stylish, but intelligence comes into his riding too. If he makes a mistake, he learns from it.'

The partnership passed an important milestone on Monday, when Rose Chime gave Johnston his 100th winner of the season, and while the success came in a claimer at Edinburgh, Weaver's performance would have graced Ascot or York. Rose Chime was under pressure and apparently going nowhere as the field turned for home. Her backers had given up, but her jockey had not. Pushing and driving to the line, Weaver got up in the last stride to win by a short-head - his second win of the afternoon by the minimum distance.

There have been offers already from major southern stables, but the Weaver-Johnston alliance seems certain to endure for another season at least. Should it prove to be a championship year, Weaver would be the first champion jockey in living memory contracted to a northern yard. 'It's obviously going to be tough,' he said, 'but I don't see why not. I don't really believe in the North-South divide, that's just something that's been drummed into people for a very long time. Maybe we can break the mould.'

A minor worry is that Weaver has yet to encounter serious disappointment. The Guineas win is quickly offered as the high point of his career, but a significant low is more elusive. 'I don't know really. Races that didn't work out like I thought they would, I suppose. I'll go home and think about it for a while, but then you've got to put it behind you and do your job.'

He has the easy, instinctive optimism that comes with roaring success, but beneath the self-assurance, the determination remains. It will be sufficient, you suspect, to carry Weaver through the adversity which the turf will inevitably hurl at him.

'Sometimes you become a little disappointed and you haven't got too much confidence in yourself, but if you're thinking of getting somewhere you never really have that attitude in your head. If I give it 75 per cent and it doesn't work out, then for the rest of my life I'm going to kick myself, but if I give it 110 per cent and it doesn't happen, I'll have no queries or qualms. I'll know it wasn't meant to be.'

But if it was, you can be sure that Jason Weaver will make it work.

(Photograph omitted)