(Edited press release)
Retired jockey Merlin Volzke will become the first of his profession to receive the Laffit Pincay Jr. Award in a presentation by the Hall of Fame rider during the July 11 TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup program at Hollywood Park.
Volzke, 83, retired in 2005 following a 26-year stint as a steward at Los Alamitos and at Bay Meadows. He retired as a jockey in 1979 when offered the opportunity to become an official.
The Pincay Award is presented annually to an individual who has served the sport with integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination and distinction.
“Merlin was a well-liked guy,” Pincay said. ”He was a good rider — he didn’t have the opportunities some other riders have. He could ride a horse very well. The best thing I liked about him was his demeanor. He was very quiet, a very nice guy to be around.
“I think it’s very special he is the first jockey to get the award,” Pincay added. “I never saw him get upset, no matter what happened in a race. I think that would have served him well as a steward. He was very respected.”
Volzke, who resides in Pinole, Calif., with wife Catherine of 56 years and daughter Eileen, was the leading jockey at Longacres in 1948 and was voted the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award by his peers in 1958. He also received the Jackie Robinson Memorial Award at Bay Meadows in 1975.
Volzke’s biggest victory at Hollywood Park came when Hanalei Bay held off Corn off the Cob by a neck to score an upset in the 1970 Hollywood Derby. He was also the jockey when Native Diver registered his first stakes win in the 1961 El Camino Handicap at Tanforan.
Other major victories came on Phil D. in the 1954 San Pasqual Handicap, Apple Valley in the 1954 Santa Anita Maturity, Rivet in the 1968 San Gabriel Handicap and 1969 Arcadia Handica, Eagle Fly in the 1969 La Jolla Handicap and Mr. Joe F. in the 1969 San Miguel Stakes.
The Laffit Pincay Jr. Award was introduced by Hollywood Park in 2004 with long-time executive and racing publicist Bob Benoit the initial winner. Trainer Noble Threewitt was the recipient in 2005, while the Stute brothers — Mel and Warren — shared the award in 2006. Owner/breeder Ellwood W. “Bud” Johnston, whose Old English Rancho is one of the most storied names in California racing, won the award in 2007, while legendary steward Pete Pedersen was the recipient in 2008.