Since 1950, Santa Anita Park has presented the annual George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award to honor the memory of one of the greatest Thoroughbred riders of all time. It is prized a one of the most prestigious awards in sports. The Woolf Award honors riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing. The trophy is a replica of the full-size statue of George Woolf which as created through donations by the racing public after his death.
The statue of George Woolf and a life-size sculpture of Seabiscuit, the great Thoroughbred who was ridden to victory by Woolf in the Pimlico Special and Hollywood Gold Cup, have places of honor in and close proximity to the Santa Anita walking ring. There the likenesses are admired daily by thousands of racing fans.
Jockey George Woolf was born in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, on May 31, 1910. He began riding at small tracks in Canada and Montana. His first big victory was in the 1933 Agua Caliente Handicap on Gallant Sir, but the year before that he scored with Hygro in the Capital Handicap at Laurel.
Known as "The Iceman," Woolf will go down in modern turf history as one of the greatest stakes riders of all time. He won the Belmont Futurity three straight years, with Occupation (1942), Occupy (1943), and Pavot (1944). He also had a similar record in the American Derby at Washington Park, winning with Alsab (1942), Askmenow (1943) and By Jimminy (1944). He won the Hollywood Gold Cup with Seabiscuit (1938), Kayak II (1939) and Challedon (1940). The Havre de Grace Handicap with Seabiscuit (1938) and Challedon (1939 and 1940).
He also won many other famous races, including the first running of the Santa Anita Handicap with Azucar, Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Arlington Handicap, Lawrence Realization, Hopeful, Hollywood Derby, Hawthorne Gold Cup, Chesapeake, Dixie, Arlington Classic, Coaching Club American Oaks, Bay Meadows Handicap and Brooklyn.
Woolf also was aboard the winner in two of the most memorable match races in history. He outmaneuvered Charlie Kurtsinger on War Admiral to win the Pimlico Special aboard Seabiscuit in 1938. Earlier that same year, Woolf piloted "The Biscuit" to a nose decision over Ligaroti, stalwart South American Star, in a special race at Del Mar.
Woolf was a friend to all horsemen. He endeared himself to the little guy in racing and would give a friend's cheap plater just as good a ride as he would a stakes horse for a fasionable stable. Over 19 years, Woolf was 721 times first, 589 times second and 468 times third out of 3,748 mounts for an outstanding win percentage of .19. His mounts earned $2,856,125.
Among racing fans, Woolf's presence on a horse was practically a guarantee that the animal would be given the best possible ride. Woolf enjoyed the confidence of the man in the grandstand as no other jockey ever had. His coolness during a race was legend, hence the nickname "The Iceman."
Woolf was blunt of speech and honest to a fault in his comments on the racing scene. After riding Whirlaway to victory in the 1942 Massachusetts Handicap, the win which gave the Calumet Farm star the money-earning lead over Seabiscuit, he dismounted and was asked by reporters, "Is Whirlaway the greatest horse you ever rode?" Woolf didn't bat an eyelash as he picked his saddle off Whirlaway and answered, "Seabiscuit is the greatest horse I ever rode!"
Death rode the saddle with George Woolf during the running of the fourth race at Santa Anita on January 3, 1946. He fell off W.W. Naylor's Please Me rounding the clubhouse turn, struck the ground head first and did not regain consciousness before he died the next morning at St. Luke's Hospital in Pasadena. Brain concussion was given as cause of death.