From the Paulick Report
Equisport Photo
Santa Anita Park has announced five finalists for the prestigious Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced on HRTV in February following a vote of jockeys nationwide.

Veteran jockeys James Graham, Mike Luzzi, Leslie Mawing, Corey Nakatani and the recently retired Rosie Napravnik are the 2015 finalists for the trophy that has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950.

One of the most prestigious awards in all of racing, the Woolf Award 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 winner’s 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 jockeys 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 2015 Woolf ballot features five highly regarded riders who have plied their trade on both racing’s biggest and smaller stages with honor and distinction.

A 35-year-old native of Dublin, Ireland, James Graham has established himself as one of the top jockeys in the Midwest. A two-time leading rider (2011, 14) at Arlington Park, Graham has consistently been among the leaders at the Chicago area track dating back to 2004. After breaking his maiden on July 1, 2003 at River Downs near Cincinnati, he won his first stakes race aboard 2-year-old filly Berbatim in the Canterbury Park (Minnesota) Lassie in 2004. Graham won his first Grade I at Keeneland in 2011, aboard Hoot Cha Cha in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.

America’s Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey in 1988, veteran Mike Luzzi has enjoyed a highly successful career and through Nov. 19, has ridden 3,420 winners. A 45-year-old native of Wilmington, Delaware, Luzzi grew up near Delaware Park and was raised in-part by his grandfather, legendary trainer Buddy Raines. Two of Luzzi’s biggest early stakes winners were trained by Raines, as Timely Warning took both the 1991 Maryland Million Classic at Pimlico and the Grade I Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park. A regular on the New York Racing Association (NYRA) circuit since 1994, Luzzi is a two-time winner (1994 & 2001) of the prestigious Mike Venezia Memorial Award, an honor given annually to a New York-based jockey who exemplifies extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.

Although a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Leslie Mawing became a jockey in the United States, breaking his maiden at age 20 at Les Boise Park in Boise, Idaho, on June 19, 1994. Currently ensconced at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco, Mawing has become a force to be reckoned with at Emerald Downs, near Seattle. Emerald’s leading rider in both 2011 and 2014, Mawing registered one of the biggest wins of his career on Aug. 24, as he rallied favored Stryker Phd from last to first to take the Grade III Longacres Mile for trainer Larry Ross. Well-traveled and respected, Mawing also rode regularly at the Los Angeles County Fair in Southern California, as well as in Minnesota, Ohio and West Virginia. Through Nov. 19, Mawing has 2,239 career wins.

Considered one of America’s top jockeys for the past 25 years, Corey Nakatani has ridden with a combination of intense desire and God-given talent en route to 3,748 career winners (through Nov. 19), including multiple riding titles and ten Breeders’ Cup wins. Born in nearby Covina, California on Oct. 21, 1970, Nakatani, who had no previous racetrack background, began working with horses at age 16 and broke his maiden with his very first mount at Agua Caliente, Mexico, in April, 1988. A tremendous finisher, Nakatani is a great judge of pace and is considered by many to be one of the best grass riders in the country. Del Mar’s second leading all-time stakes rider, he’s won 10 Southern California riding titles.

Following her win aboard the Steve Asmussen-trained Untapable in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Oct. 31, riding sensation Rosie Napravnik stunned the racing world by announcing on live television that she would retire from riding to “start a family” following the remaining Breeders’ Cup races the following day. Stating later that she was seven weeks pregnant, Napravnik said that she was looking forward to motherhood and her new role as an assistant to her husband, Thoroughbred trainer Joe Sharp, who is based in Kentucky. Often compared to retired Hall of Famer Julie Krone, Napravnik has long preferred to be judged as a jockey—irrespective of gender. “A lot of young female riders are just girls who love horses, but they just don’t have the strength and toughness, and they’re not cut out to be jockeys,” she said in a 2011 interview. “You’ve got to deliver the goods to get over that hump.” Napravnik, 26, began riding at age 17 in Maryland and retires with 1,878 wins from 9,715 mounts. Her major stakes wins include two Breeders’ Cup victories and two triumphs in the iconic Kentucky Oaks.

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