BRAVO, CASTELLANO, ESPINOZA, MELANCON & STEINER TO FACE VOTE OF THEIR PEERS
ARCADIA, Calif. (Nov. 23, 2015)–Santa Anita Park has announced 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 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. Synonymous with winning in his native New Jersey for nearly 27 years, Bravo won eight riding titles at The Meadowlands and has won 13 at Monmouth, dating back to the early 1990s.
Born on Sept. 10, 1971, Bravo first rode professionally at Calder Race Course in South Florida in the fall of 1988, at age 17. Bravo’s dominance in New Jersey is no better underscored than by his success in the Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth, as he’s won the race five times, including three straight from 2004 through 2006.
Perennially among America’s leading money-winning jockeys, Bravo won his 5,000th career race this past May 23 at Monmouth, thus becoming only the 31st North American jockey to reach this lofty plateau. He’s kept his momentum going throughout the year, as he has now won 17 graded stakes in 2015–including six Grade I’s. Through Nov. 18, Bravo had 5,054 wins and his mounts had earned $156,146,548.
A native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, 38-year-old Javier Castellano is the son of a former jockey who began riding full-time in 1966. He moved to the United States in 1997, where he became a regular on the South Florida circuit. Castellano was initially thrust into national prominence when victorious aboard Ghostzapper in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park. He was back in the national spotlight in 2006, when he won the Preakness Stakes aboard Bernardini.
Born Oct. 23, 1977, Castellano’s career win total through Nov. 18 stood at 4,249. With career earnings of $241,338,225, his biggest payday came in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Stakes aboard Saratoga County on March 26, 2005 in Dubai.
Courtesy of the Bob Baffert-trained American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza became America’s first Triple Crown winning jockey in 37 years when he guided the son of Pioneerof the Nile to victory in the Belmont Stakes this past June 6. Gleefully proclaiming himself “the luckiest Mexican on earth,” on national television following his Triple Crown triumph, Espinoza made multiple appearances on national shows such as Good Morning America and Dancing With the Stars, thus helping to enable racing to transcend traditional barriers and appeal to a broad-based audience far beyond the confines of the industry.
In addition to winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Espinoza and Santa Anita-based American Pharoah won this year’s Grade I Arkansas Derby, Grade I Haskell Invitational and, in a performance for the ages, the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic by 6 ½ lengths on Oct. 31–all the while elevating the profile of jockeys nationwide and generating tremendous ratings and interest in The Sport of Kings.
Born May 23, 1972 on a dairy farm near Mexico City, Espinoza is the 11th of 12 children. A three-time ESPY Award winner, Espinoza has also been tireless in his efforts on behalf of cancer-stricken youth, donating 10 percent of his winnings to support pediatric cancer research at City of Hope, in nearby Duarte. In addition to winning the Triple Crown, Espinoza has three overall Kentucky Derby wins, three Preakness victories and he has won three Breeders’ Cup races.
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. Born May 19, 1967 in Rayne, Louisiana, Melancon has won multiple riding titles at Delta Downs and he owns the record there for most wins and purse money won in a single season. A two-time winner of the Grade III Delta Jackpot, Melancon also won the Grade II Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in 2004 with Fantasticat.
Louisiana-bred Bonapaw provided Melancon with 11 stakes victories, including a win in the prestigious Grade I Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park in 2002. One of a long list of gifted Cajun riders, Melancon became the 65th North American rider to win 4,000 career races on Jan. 30, 2013 at Delta Downs.
A lifelong “race tracker,” Joe Steiner grew up going to the races at the now-shuttered Longacres Racetrack near Seattle and took his early lessons from his uncle, top rider Jack Leonard. Steiner made his mark in Southern California by working for the legendary Johnny Longden, who used Steiner on a regular basis, including aboard the stakes winning Kangaroo Court in the early 1980s.
Steiner broke his maiden at Del Mar on Sept. 10, 1981 and was based primarily on the tough Southern California circuit throughout most of his career. Born Aug. 7, 1964 in Renton, Washington, he returned home to ride full-time in the Seattle area earlier this year and notched his 1,000th career victory aboard Gold Boom on April 19 at Emerald Downs.
Quick with a smile, the popular Steiner, whose parents, Joe and Sally operate Emerald’s popular backside kitchen, The Quarter Chute Café, was the track’s fifth leading rider this year, finishing with 41 wins. Joe’s brother, Jack, is a trainer based currently at Golden Gate Fields.
The Woolf Award is traditionally presented at Santa Anita in mid or late March, depending upon the winner’s riding schedule and availability.