Santa Anita Park names five finalists for George Wolff Award

George Wolff Award statueMike Willman of Santa Anita Park announced the five finalists for the prestigious Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced in February following a vote of jockeys nationwide.

Veteran jockeys Joe Bravo, Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza, Gerard Melancon and Joe Steiner are the 2016 finalists for the trophy that has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950.

One of the most coveted awards in all of horse 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 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 highest.

The 2016 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.

An iconic figure on the eastern seaboard, “Jersey Joe” Bravo is Monmouth Park’s all-time leading jockey and is held in the highest regard by horsemen and fans alike.

A native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, 38-year-old Javier Castellano is the son of a former jockey who began riding full-time in 1996. Moving to the United States in 1997, Castellano became a regular on the South Florida circuit and topped the standings at the Calder Tropical Meet in 1999-2000, and again in 2000-2001.

Courtesy of the Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza became America’s first Triple Crown winning jockey in 37 years and most recent two time Kentucky Derby winning jockey.

A native of Scott, Louisiana, Gerard Melancon has been a staple at Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs and Louisiana Downs since his days as one of America’s fasting rising apprentice jockeys in the early 1980s.

A lifelong “race tracker,” Joe Steiner grew up going to the races at the now-shuttered Longacres Racetrack near Seattle.

The Woolf Award is traditionally presented at Santa Anita in mid or late March, depending upon the winner’s riding schedule and availability.