Santa Anita Park has announced a distinguished group of five finalists for the 2021 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced in February. One of the most prestigious awards in American racing, the Woolf Award, which is determined by a vote of jockeys nationwide, can only be won once.
Jockeys Alex Birzer, Jorge Martin Bourdieu, Kendrick Carmouche, Aaron Gryder and Deshawn Parker, veteran riders who have stood the test of time and have earned the respect of their peers and horsemen in various geographic regions, comprise 2021’s select group of Woolf finalists.
Presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950, the Woolf Award recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character garner esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The trophy is a replica of the life-sized statue of legendary Hall of Fame jockey George Woolf, which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.
Regarded as one of the greatest big-money riders of his era, Woolf was a household word by virtue of winning the inaugural Santa Anita Handicap aboard Azucar on Feb. 23, 1935 and for his association with the immortal Seabiscuit, whom he rode to victory over Triple Crown Champion War Admiral in a mile and three sixteenths match race at Pimlico Race Course on Nov. 1, 1938.
Affectionately known as “The Iceman,” Woolf was revered by his fellow riders, members of the media and millions of racing fans across America as a fierce competitor and consummate professional.
One of America’s hardest working jockeys and a mainstay in the Midwest for nearly three decades, Kansas native Alex Birzer, the son of a trainer, was born Oct. 2, 1973. A five-time leading rider at Prairie Meadows in Des Moines, Iowa and a four-time leader at The Woodlands near Kansas City, Birzer rides year ’round at three tracks, primarily, Oaklawn Park, Prairie Meadows and at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. Birzer, who has 3,396 career wins through Nov. 29, is married with three children and resides in Council Grove, Kansas.
The key to his success? Birzer, whose younger brother Gary was rendered permanently disabled due to a racing accident in 2004, has this bit of simple advice: “When you get up in the morning, make sure you’re proud of the guy in the mirror.”
A native of Cordoba, Argentina, Jorge Martin Bourdieu, 46, has ridden primarily in the Southwest, where he’s established a reputation as a consistent professional who has overcome injuries while riding both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. A regular at Los Alamitos Racecourse 20 years ago, he was leading rider at the Orange County track from 1999 to 2001, with Thoroughbreds and Arabians. A winner of 90 Thoroughbred races at Los Alamitos, he has returned on occasion to ride in Quarter Horse stakes, including victories in the Grade I AQHA Cox Ranch Distance Challenge at 870 yards in 2018 and the $100,000 Wild West Futurity in 2019. Bourdieu currently plies his trade primarily at Turf Paradise, Sunland Park, Zia Park and at Arapahoe Park.
One of many talented Cajun jockeys, Kendrick Carmouche was born Jan. 18, 1984 in Lake Charles, Louisiana and began riding at recognized tracks at age 16. The son of jockey Sylvester Carmouche, Kendrick became a dominant force at Parx Racing near Philadelphia in 2008 and led the rider standings there four consecutive years through 2011. Currently a year ’round fixture in New York, Carmouche was the leading rider at the recently concluded Aqueduct Fall Meeting and he is regarded as an outstanding “gate rider” and is known for his unfailingly positive attitude and consistent ability to produce with any kind of horse at any price. In what he described as “the biggest win of my career,” Carmouche took the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct with True Timber on Dec. 5, which was also his first-ever Grade I victory. Married with two children, Carmouche is in the prime of a career that has seen him boot home more than 3,300 winners.
A native of nearby West Covina, Calif., Aaron Gryder aspired to be a jockey from a very young age, courtesy of numerous trips to Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar with his grandparents. Born June 5, 1970, Gryder broke his maiden on Jan. 18, 1987 south of the border at Caliente and went on to become leading rider at Hollywood Park’s Fall Meeting as an apprentice—in a Jockeys’ Room that included the likes of Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens and Patrick Valenzuela. One of the most articulate figures in racing, Gryder has worked in commercial film and television and has often advocated on behalf of the Thoroughbred industry.
Well-traveled, Gryder won the world’s richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup, on March 28, 2009 aboard Well Armed and in addition to Hollywood Park, has notched leading rider titles at Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, Aqueduct and Golden Gate Fields. With more than 3,900 career wins, Gryder announced his retirement this past month at Del Mar, but has subsequently agreed to ride in Saudi Arabia and also in Dubai, where his son is stationed with the United States Marine Corps.
At five feet, 10 inches, DeShawn Parker certainly isn’t your prototypical jockey. In a world comprised of much smaller athletes, Parker’s height belies an incredible level of talent that has enabled him to eclipse the 5,000 career win mark and to lead all North American jockeys, twice. America’s leading rider with 377 wins in 2010, Parker, who at the time was riding full time at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia, came back to lead again in 2011 with 400 wins. The son of a longtime racing official, Parker was born on Jan. 8, 1971 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The first African-American jockey to lead the nation in wins since 1895, Parker has 5,822 career victories through Nov. 29, and in the opinion of many could be approaching Hall of Fame consideration. A perennial leading rider at Mountaineer for more than 20 years, Parker has also enjoyed considerable success at Indiana Grand and at Sam Houston Race Park, where he was their leading rider in 2015. Married with two children, Parker lives in East Liverpool, Ohio.
The 2020 Woof Award was won by Luis M. Quinones and the 2021 winner will become the 72nd jockey, dating back to Gordon Glisson in 1950, to be so honored.