A geographically diverse group of five veteran jockeys have been selected as finalists for the 2024 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, presented annually by Santa Anita Park since 1950. 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. Once the ballots have been counted, the 75th annual Woolf Award winner will be announced in February.
Junior Alvarado, Alex Birzer, Julien Leparoux, Edwin Maldonado, and Rodney Prescott, all prominent in various regions, ranging from California to the Midwest, Florida, and New York, are all highly deserving candidates that have competed with distinction, on and off the racetrack, for many years.
Named in honor of the legendary late jockey George Woolf, who rose to national prominence as the winner of the inaugural Santa Anita Handicap in 1935 with Azucar and later as the rider of fellow Hall of Famer Seabiscuit, whom he rode to victory over reigning Triple Crown champion War Admiral in a nationally broadcast match race at Pimlico Race Course on Nov. 1, 1938, the Woolf Award trophy is a highly coveted replica of the life-sized statue which adorns Santa Anita's Paddock Gardens area.
Affectionately known as the "The Iceman," Woolf was regarded as one of the greatest big-money riders of his era and was revered by his fellow riders, members of the media, and millions of racing fans across America as a fierce competitor and consummate professional.
Best known as the regular rider of Bill Mott's two-time Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner and Horse of the Year candidate Cody's Wish , Junior Alvarado has thus become well known nationally and has endeared himself to fans nationwide by virtue of his role in one of the most compelling stories in racing history. In addition to Cody's Wish winning this year's Breeders Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, Alvarado took the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) a day earlier on Nov. 3, aboard the Mott-trained Just F Y I.
The son of a jockey, Alvarado was born May 20, 1986, in Barquisimento, Venezuela, and broke his maiden near Caracas at age 19 on Dec. 30, 2005. Alvarado immigrated to America in 2007 and rode his first United States winner at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 17 of that year. Shifting his tack to Chicago in 2008, Alvarado was Arlington Park's leading rider in 2009.
Relocating on a permanent basis to New York in 2010, Alvarado and his wife, Kelly, have two sons, Adrian and Axel, and a daughter, Adalyn. With 2,082 wins through Dec. 3, Alvarado shows no signs of slowing down at age 37.
A five-time leading rider at Prairie Meadows in Des Moines, Iowa, and a four-time leader at The Woodlands near Kansas City, Alex Birzer long ago stamped himself as one of America's hardest-working riders and has been a mainstay in the Midwest for three decades.
The son of a trainer, Birzer, who was born Oct. 2, 1973, rides year-round at three tracks, primarily Oaklawn Park, Prairie Meadows, and Remington Park. The older brother of Gary Birzer, who was rendered permanently disabled as the result of a racing accident in 2004, has a credo that he lives by: "When you get up in the morning, make sure you're proud of the guy in the mirror."
Birzer, who through Dec. 3 had amassed 3,826 wins, is married with three children and resides in Council Grove, Kan.
Long considered one of the top riders in the world, French native Julien Leparoux, the son of a jockey who was born July 15, 1983, in Senlis, France, is a consistently prominent force at Keeneland, having amassed 10 riding titles there. In addition to his successes at Keeneland, Leparoux notched seven wins in a single day at Churchill Downs on Nov. 11, 2008, tying him with the legendary Pat Day, who first accomplished the feat in 1984.
Married to the former Shea Mitchell, daughter of deceased Southern California-based leading trainer Mike Mitchell and his wife Denise, Leparoux has been a leading rider at Keeneland 12 times, dating back to 2006. At age 40, Leparoux who has 2,956 wins through Dec. 3, resides with his wife and son Mitchell in Kentucky.
America's leading jockey by races won in 2006 with 403 victories, Leparoux was voted that year's Eclipse champion apprentice jockey and honored as champion jockey in 2009. He is a winner of seven Breeders' Cup races, most recently at Santa Anita in 2016 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) with Classic Empire.
Unusually tall for a jockey at five feet eight inches, Columbus, Ohio, native Edwin Maldonado has persevered through serious injuries and reestablished himself as a consistent top-10 rider with the help of veteran agent Tony Matos. A Southern California regular since 2010, Maldonado endeared himself to fans and horsemen alike as a terrific gate rider and fierce competitor in 2012, when he supplanted long-time Fairplex Park riding champ Martin Pedroza at that year's Los Angeles County Fair meet.
A hard worker, Maldonado garnered his first top-level stakes victory in October 2022 aboard the Bob Baffert-trained Defunded in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1). Born Dec. 1, 1982, Maldonado believes in the power of positive thinking.
One of the most popular riders on the Southern California circuit, Maldonado, nicknamed "The Candyman," has pocketed 1,532 career winners through Dec. 3.
Born March 8, 1974, in Portland, Ind., Rodney Prescott is the Hoosier State's all-time leading rider and has been a consistent top-10 rider at Horseshoe Indianapolis. After a stint as a groom following high school graduation, Prescott won his first race at age 20 at River Downs, near Cincinnati. A three-time leading rider at Horseshoe Indianapolis when it was known as Indiana Grand (2004, 2005, and 2018), Prescott has 4,112 career wins through Dec. 3.
Last year's Woolf Award was won by Javier Castellano, who became the 74th Woolf recipient, dating back to the inaugural winner in 1950, Gordon Glisson.This press release has been edited for content and style by BloodHorse Staff.