One of the niceties of the Southern California racing season is the annual presentation of the George Woolf Award to a jockey who has impressed his peers on and off the track. Many of the past winners show up at Santa Anita for the ceremony and are applauded by nostalgic fans. Nominees for the 2009 award were named today in the news release below.
Santa Anita Park announced today a list of five finalists for the 60th annual Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced in January. Gary Baze, Calvin Borel, Javier Castellano, David Flores and John Velazquez will face an electorate comprised of their peers and one of the five will be selected the recipient of the 2009 Woolf Award.
The release goes on:
The Woolf Award has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950 and is regarded as one of the most prestigious honors in all of racing. It honors and recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The winner’s trophy is a replica of the full-size statue of George Woolf which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area. The statue was created through donations from the racing public after Woolf’s death following a spill at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 1946. Woolf, who was regarded as one of the nation’s top big-money jockeys, was affectionately known as “The Iceman,” and was revered by his colleagues as a fierce competitor and consummate professional.
A long-time fixture in the Pacific Northwest, Baze is an iconic figure in his native Washington. At age 53, he has won 3,420 races, including a record five tallies in the prestigious Gr. III Longacres Mile. A first cousin of North America’s leading jockey Russell Baze, Gary began his career as an apprentice at the defunct Playfair Race Course in Spokane in 1972, and he went on to become Washington’s all-time leading rider. A regular once again this past season at Emerald Downs near Seattle, Baze finished fourth at the track that succeeded Longacres.
Like so many top Cajun riders before him, Calvin Borel began riding in match races in his native Louisiana long before he was old enough to compete at recognized race tracks. From “matching” at the age of eight, to winning the 2007 Kentucky Derby aboard Street Sense at 40, Borel’s career has been punctuated by hard work and a no-nonsense approach to the sport’s daily rigors. Now 42, Borel has become an iconic figure on the Kentucky-Arkansas-Louisiana circuit and has won riding titles throughout the region. As he demonstrated during his Triple Crown-run with Street Sense, Borel has a penchant for hugging the rail en route to heart-pounding victories and has thus earned the moniker “Bo-Rail.” He recorded his 3,000th and 4,000th career wins at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, and through Oct. 31, 2008, his win total stands at 4,535.
A native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, 31-year-old Javier Castellano is the son of a former jockey who began riding full-time in 1996. He moved to America in 1997, where he began competing full-time on the South Florida circuit. Castellano was thrust into national prominence when victorious aboard Ghostzapper in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park. He was back in the national spotlight in 2006, when he won the Preakness Stakes aboard Bernardini. The race was marred by the breakdown of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Castellano’s career win total through the month of October is 2,265.
Long regarded as one of Southern California’s top jockeys, David Flores broke his maiden south of the border in his native Mexico at Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana on March 5, 1984. Known for his level temperament and cool under fire, his career breakthrough came in 1991 when victorious aboard the Bobby Frankel-conditioned Marquetry in the Gr. I Hollywood Gold Cup, which would prove to be the first of ten $1 million stakes wins. Now 40 years of age, he has won three Breeders’ Cup races, the 2001 Juvenile Fillies aboard Tempera, the 2003 Juvenile on Action This Day, and the 2004 Mile on Singletary. A winner of 3,183 races through Oct. 31, Flores is involved in many charitable events and hosts his own golf tournament each summer at Del Mar. At his direction, proceeds from the tournament benefit the “Orphans of Tijuana.”
In what would prove to be a fortuitous career move, John Velazquez, under the guidance of Hall of Famer and fellow Puerto Rican jockey Angel Cordero Jr., moved to New York from Puerto Rico in March of 1990. Velazquez would go on to amass 24 riding titles in New York and was voted the nation’s Ecliple Award winning jockey in 2004 and 2005. He won the Bill Shoemaker Award for top Breeders’ Cup performance by a jockey in 2004, as he won the Distaff with Ashado and the Sprint with Speightstown. He won his first Triple Crown race with the filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. At the age of 36, he notched his 4,000th career win this past Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. His career win total through the month of October is 4,017. “Johnny V.” has long been regarded as a leader among his peers and he commands the respect of jockeys nationwide.
Past Hall of Fame winners of the Woolf Award are Bill Shoemaker (1951), John Longden (1952), Eddie Arcaro (1953), Ralph Neves (1954), Johnny Adams (1956), Ted Atkinson (1957), Bill Boland (1959), Steve Brooks (1962), Milo Valenzuela (1963), Manuel Ycaza (1964), Walter Blum (1965), Braulio Baeza (1968), John Sellers (1969), Laffit Pincay Jr. (1970), Angel Cordero Jr. (1972), John Rotz (1973), Sandy Hawley (1976), Ron Turcotte (1979), Chris McCarron (1980), Eddie Delahoussaye (1981), Steve Cauthen (1984), Pat Day (1985), Jorge Velasquez (1986), Don Brumfield (1988), Larry Snyder (1989), Earlie Fires (1991), Jerry Bailey (1992), Kent Desormeaux (1993), Gary Stevens (1996), Craig Perret (1998), Jose Santos (1999), Mike Smith (2000), Russell Baze (2002) and Edgar Prado (2003).
The Woolf Award is traditionally presented in late March or early April.
Santa Anita’s 72nd Winter/Spring meeting will begin on Dec. 26.