Five finalists for one of American racing’s most prestigious honors, the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, have been announced, with the winner to be revealed in February following a vote of jockeys nationwide.
Jockeys Alex Birzer, Javier Castellano, Jose Ferrer, Rodney Prescott and Joe Talamo are the finalists for the prestigious trophy that has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950.
One of the most coveted awards in all of racing, the Woolf Award, which can only be won once, is presented to a different jockey each year and it recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The trophy is a replica of the life-sized statue of legendary jockey George Woolf, which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.
Woolf, who died at the age of 35 following a spill on Santa Anita’s Club House turn on Jan. 3, 1946, was regarded as one of the top big-money riders of his era. Known affectionately as “The Iceman,” he was revered by his colleagues, members of the media and fans across America as a fierce competitor and consummate professional who was at his best when the stakes were high.
The 2018 Woolf ballot, which will be distributed to active jockeys across the country, features five highly regarded riders who have plied their trade with honor and distinction.
A native of Hutchinson, Kansas, Alex Birzer was born Oct. 2, 1973. A rock-solid fixture in the nation’s heartland, Birzer first came to prominence at the now-shuttered Woodlands outside Kansas City, Kansas, where he was a four-time leading rider. Also a four-time kingpin at Prairie Meadows, just outside Des Moines, Iowa, Birzer notched his 3,000thcareer win at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas on Feb. 26 of this year. He’s also had top-five performances at Oaklawn and at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
A superstar by any accounting, Javier Castellano has been America’s leading money-winning rider for the past four years and, dating back to 2013, he has won four consecutive Eclipse Awards as America’s Champion Jockey. The son of a jockey, Castellano was born Oct. 23, 1977 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. A winner of this year’s Preakness Stakes aboard Cloud Computing, Castellano burst upon the national stage by winning the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Ghostzapper at Lone Star Park. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame this past August, Castellano’s 2015 single season purse earnings of $28.1 million stands as a North American record. He currently has more than 4,800 career victories.
Born March 31, 1964 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jose Ferrer has been a mainstay on the eastern seaboard dating back to 1983, when he made his American debut at Calder Race Course in south Florida. With nearly 4,200 wins to his credit, Ferrer is a proponent of the power of positive thinking and views each day as a God-given opportunity to contribute to a sport that has provided him a magnificent career. Second in the standings this past summer at Monmouth Park, Ferrer is back in action at Tampa Bay Downs following serious injuries that resulted from a spill at Delaware Park in September.
Born March 8, 1974 in Portland, Indiana, Rodney Prescott began galloping horses upon graduation from high school. After a stint as a groom, he broke his maiden at age 20 at River Downs, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fittingly, Prescott is Hoosier Park’s all-time leading rider and it was at Hoosier that he notched his 2,000 career win on Oct. 18, 2006. Win number 3,000 came at northern Kentucky’s Turfway Park on Dec. 27, 2012.
America’s Eclipse Award-winning Apprentice Jockey in 2007, Joe Talamo is a perennial Top 10 jockey on the tough Southern California circuit, which he joined in the spring of 2007. Born Jan. 12, 1990, in Marrero, Louisiana, near New Orleans, Talamo has established himself as one of the country’s top young riders and he goes out of his way to accommodate media and racing fans. With more than 1,800 career wins, that include a large number of graded stakes, Talamo figures to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.