Veteran jockeys Kerwin Clark, Stewart Elliott, Julien Leparoux, Glen Murphy, and Scott Stevens are the five finalists for the 2017 Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, Santa Anita Park announced Dec. 7.
The Woolf Award, which can only be won once, has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950 and 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.
The winner will be announced in February following a nationwide vote of jockeys.
Woolf, who died following a spill on Santa Anita's clubhouse turn 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 high.
The 2017 Woolf ballot features five highly regarded riders who have plied their trade with honor and distinction.
A Louisiana native who catapulted to national fame by winning the 2015 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at 56, Clark has long been respected by fans, horsemen, and his fellow jockeys as a rock-solid rider who has conducted himself with a quiet distinction for more than 40 years.
The son of a jockey who started at bush tracks in his native Louisiana, Clark rode his first winner at Fair Grounds in New Orleans Jan. 3, 1976. When asked about his Oaks victory, which came some 39 years later, he simply responded, "Best day of my life."
Through Dec. 2, Clark has 2,997 career wins.
Born in Toronto, Canada, and best known as the regular rider of champion and dual classic winner Smarty Jones in 2004, Elliott shows no signs of slowing down at 51. Through Dec. 2, Elliott has amassed 4,707 wins. Regarded as a strong finisher who is also an outstanding judge of pace, Elliott shifted his tack on a full-time basis to Southern California in 2015 and has established himself as one of the circuit's top riders.
The son of a jockey-turned trainer, French-born Leparoux is an 11-time leading rider at Keeneland and, at 33, is regarded as one of America's elite young riders. Married to the late trainer Mike Mitchell's daughter, Shea, Leparoux ranked 12th nationally by money won last year and appears poised for superstardom.
A winner of seven Breeders' Cup races, his most recent triumph in that event came at Santa Anita Nov. 5, when he won the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) with John Oxley's Classic Empire . Through Dec. 2, Leparoux had won 2,329 races.
An iconic figure at Sunland Park near El Paso, Murphy broke his maiden at Sunland Oct. 28, 1984, and he notched his 3,000th career victory at Zia Park in December 2015. Sidelined due to a fractured pelvis incurred in a paddock mishap in February 2015, he rebounded quickly and enjoyed a fine year.
A model of consistency, Murphy, 50, who is a graduate of Coronado High School in El Paso, has been among the nation's top 100 jockeys by money won every year since 2012. Through Dec. 2, he has 3,047 wins.
Long active in the support of his fellow riders, Stevens has overcome life-threatening injuries to become one of America's most highly respected jockeys. A member of the Canterbury Park and Idaho Racing Halls of Fame, Stevens is now within striking distance of 5,000 career wins, as he has amassed 4,616 victories through Dec. 2.
At 55, Stevens is showing no signs of slowing down at Turf Paradise, as he booted home 118 winners over the 2015-16 meeting, good for his eighth "Turf" riding title.
The older brother of Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, Scott Stevens broke his maiden on May 30, 1976, at Le Bois Park in Boise, Idaho.