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SANTA ANITA GEORGE WOOLF FINALISTS ANNOUNCED
ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 9, 2009)—Santa Anita Park announced Wednesday a list of five finalists for the 61st annual Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced in January. Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Randall Meier, Gallyn Mitchell and DeShawn Parker will face an electorate comprised of their peers and one of the five will be selected the recipient of the highly coveted 2010 Woolf Award.
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 life-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 which followed 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 both his colleagues and members of the media as a fierce competitor and consummate professional.
The 2010 Woolf Award ballot features some of the highest profile jockeys in the world and also represents a broad diversity of geographic regions.
Throughout 2009, Louisiana-born Calvin Borel maintained the highest of profiles on racing’s biggest stages. Borel orchestrated an unforgettable last-to-first run aboard 50-1 longshot Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby, one day after winning the Kentucky Oaks by 19 lengths aboard superstar filly Rachel Alexandra.
Borel, who won his first recognized race in 1976, would go on to win the Preakness Stakes aboard “Rachel” and would also pilot the Steve Asmussen trainee to victories against colts in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.
Like so many top Cajun riders before him, Borel began riding in match races in his native Louisiana long before he was old enough to compete at recognized racetracks. From “matching” at age eight, to winning his first Kentucky Derby in 2007 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. Annually during the Oaklawn Park meeting, Borel can commonly be found mucking stalls and performing other menial stable duties for his brother, trainer Cecil Borel.
Now 43, Borel is an iconic figure on the Kentucky-Arkansas-Louisiana circuit and has won riding titles throughout the region. As he demonstrated in winning Derbies aboard both Street Sense and Mine That Bird, Borel has a penchant for hugging the rail en route to heart-pounding victories and has thus earned the moniker “Bo-Rail.” Through Nov. 30, 2009, Borel’s lifetime win total stood at 4,830, with $106,800,825 in earnings.
Nicknamed “Go-Go” for his hard-charging style, Garrett Gomez, the son of a jockey, Louie, and a native of Tucson, Arizona, has overcome personal problems and established himself as one of the great riders of his era, as he has been America’s leading money-winning jockey for the past three years, in 2006, ’07 and ’08.
Gomez, 37, broke his maiden at Santa Fe Downs, New Mexico on Aug. 19, 1988, and his career began to take off in the mid ’90s, as he won back-to-back runnings of the Arkansas Derby in 1994 and ’95. In 1997, he won the “Mid-America Triple,” at Arlington Park in Chicago, by taking the American Derby, American Classic, and the Secretariat Stakes (his first Grade I), all aboard Honor Glide.
As a result of substance abuse issues, Gomez did not ride for parts of 2002, ’03 and ’04. However, he returned to full-time riding late in 2004, and by the end of 2005, Gomez had become one of the top big money riders in America, as he won his first two Breeders’ Cup races, the 2005 Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy and the ’05 Mile with Artie Schiller.
At the suggestion of recently retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, Gomez hired top agent Ron Anderson early in 2006, facilitating his ascension to the top of his profession.
“Go-Go’s” other Breeders’ Cup wins include the 2007 Juvenile Fillies aboard Indian Blessing, the ’07 and ’08 Sprint with Midnight Lute, and the ’08 Juvenile with Midshipman. Gomez reached the 3,000 win plateau by taking the Oak Tree Mile on Sept. 28, 2008, aboard Hyperbaric.
An integral part of the hit series “Jockeys” on Animal Planet cable network, Gomez has earned the respect of the racing community by dealing with his personal issues in a forthright manner and has contributed generously to charitable causes such as the California-based Winners’ Foundation.
Gomez’s career earnings, through Nov. 30, stood at $159,889,171, from 3,256 wins. He resides in nearby Duarte with his wife Pam and children Jared, Amanda, Shelby and Collin.
Randy Meier, 55, a native of Nebraska and a fixture in the Chicago area for nearly 30 years, has overcome catastrophic injuries throughout his career and remains a force to be reckoned with at Hawthorne Race Course, where he is that track’s all-time winningest jockey.
Meier, who won his 4,000th race in 2008 at Arlington Park, is also the all-time leading rider at the now shuttered Sportsman’s Park near Chicago. Meier has been a dominate force in the Chicago area since 1980. His son Brandon has followed in his footsteps and is now plying his trade as a regular rider in Chicago as well.
Meier’s win total through Nov. 30, was 3,917, with career earnings of $58,090,118.
The epitome of a hard-working rider throughout his 28-year career, Gallyn Mitchell, 46, has become a fixture at Emerald Downs, outside of Seattle. With 1,173 victories at the Auburn, Washington track, which opened in 1996, Mitchell is the all-time leader at Emerald and is the only Emerald-based jockey to amass more than $10 million in career earnings.
A native of Southern California, Mitchell was nicknamed “Booger” by his mother, a moniker that has followed him throughout his racing career.
Mitchell won the Pacific Northwest’s marquee race, the Longacres Mile, for the second time this past Aug. 16, with Assessment. He won his first Mile aboard Edneator, at 41-1, in 2000.
Mitchell and his wife of 21 years, Denise, have three children, all of whom are deeply involved with horses. Denise also serves as “Booger’s” agent, a role she has held since 1995. Together, they are atop the all-time stakes-won list at Emerald, with 63 added money triumphs.
Mitchell broke his maiden on Jan. 29, 1981 at Santa Anita and through Nov. 30, he now has 2,437 career wins and $18,172,082 in lifetime earnings.
In large part due to a family tragedy that befell long time client and trainer Frank Lucarelli, whose son Tony died of brain cancer at age 16 in 2005, Mitchell heads at least one charity event a year, usually a golf tournament or a poker ride, either on horses or motorcycles.
Well respected by his peers, Mitchell is also a fierce competitor. “You’ve got to outride him, he won’t give you anything,” said jockey Ricky Frazier in 2008. “He’s very knowledgeable, rides his heart out and makes you ride better to beat him. It’s an honor to ride against him.”
Like Mitchell and Gomez, DeShawn Parker, 38, will be a Woolf finalist for the first time in 2010. America’s second leading rider with 333 wins in 2008, Parker has long been a fixture at Mountaineer Park, where he has won several riding titles and where he rode regularly for the late Dale Baird, the winningest trainer in Thoroughbred history.
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Parker, who is African-American, is one of the nation’s taller jockeys, at 5’ 10”.
“Everyone is so shocked when they first see him because he’s so tall, but to watch how he folds down and lays down on a horse, he’s just a natural,” said Parker’s father, Darryl, in a 2003 interview.
Involved in the Thoroughbred industry since 1964, the elder Parker became America’s first black steward in 1986, at Thistledown, in suburban Cleveland.
“Basically, the reason I’m riding today is because of him,” said DeShawn Parker. “I always hung around him when he was a pony boy, and when he became the clerk of scales in Cleveland, I got to sit in the jockeys’ room and I just loved it. He’s definitely my main influence.”
Through Nov. 30, 2009, Parker is credited with 3,101 wins, and $35,127,883 in career earnings.