ARCADIA, CA—A geographically diverse group of five veteran jockeys have been selected as finalists for the 2024 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, presented annually by Santa Anita Park since 1950. The Woolf Award, which is determined by a vote of jockeys nationwide, can only be won once and the winner will be announced in February.

Alex Birzer – Coady Photography

Junior Alvarado, Alex Birzer, Julien Leparoux, Edwin Maldonado and Rodney Prescott, all prominent in various regions, ranging from California to the Midwest, Florida and New York, are all highly deserving candidates that have competed with distinction, on and off the racetrack, for many years.

Named in honor of the legendary late jockey George Woolf, the Woolf Award trophy is a replica of the life-sized statue which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area. Affectionately known as the “The Iceman,” Woolf was regarded as one of the greatest big money riders of his era.

Best known as the regular rider of Bill Mott’s two-time Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Grade 1)-winner Cody’s Wish, Junior Alvarado makes his winter base at Gulfstream Park. In addition to Cody’s Wish winning this year’s Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, Alvarado took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on Nov. 3, aboard Mott’s Just F Y I.

The son of a jockey, Alvarado was born May 20, 1986 in Barquisimento, Venezuela and broke his maiden near Caracas at age 19 on Dec. 30, 2005. Alvarado immigrated to America in 2007 and rode his first United States winner at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 17 of that year.

Alvarado and his wife Kelly have a son, Adrian and a daughter, Adalyn. With 2,082 wins through Dec. 3, Alvarado is showing no signs of slowing down at age 37.

Julien Leparoux – Coady Photography

A five-time leading rider at Prairie Meadow in Des Moines, Iowa and a four-time leader at The Woodlands near Kansas City, Alex Birzer long ago stamped himself as one of America’s hardest working riders and has been a mainstay in the Midwest for three decades.

Birzer, who through Dec. 3 had amassed 3,826 wins, is married with three children and resides in Council Grove, Kansas.

Long considered one of the top riders in the world, French native Julien Leparoux, the son of a jockey who was born July 15, 1983 in Senlis, France, is a consistently prominent force at Keeneland Racecourse, having amassed 10 riding titles there. In addition to his successes at Keenland, Leparoux notched seven wins in a single day at Churchill Downs on Nov. 11, 2008, tying him with the legendary Pat Day, who first accomplished the feat in 1984.

Edwin Maldonado – Coady Photography

Married to the former Shea Mitchell, daughter of deceased Southern California-based leading trainer Mike Mitchell and his wife Denise, Leparoux has been a leading rider at Keeneland 12 times, dating back to 2006. At age 40, Leparoux who has 2,956 wins through Dec. 3, resides with his wife and son Mitchell in Kentucky.

Unusually tall for a jockey at five feet, eight inches, Columbus, Ohio native Edwin Maldonado has persevered through serious injuries and reestablished himself as a consistent top-10 rider in Southern California, where he has been a regular since 2010.

One of the most popular riders on the Southern California circuit, Maldonado, nicknamed “The Candyman,” has pocketed 1,532 career winners through Dec. 3.

Rodney Prescott – Coady Photography

Born March 8, 1974 in Portland, Ind., Rodney Prescott is the Hoosier State’s all-time leading rider where has been a consistent top-10 rider for many years. After a stint as a groom following high school graduation, Prescott broke his maiden at age 20 at River Downs, near Cincinnati. A three-time leading rider at Indiana Grand (2004, 2005 & 2018), Prescott has 4,112 career wins through Dec. 3.

Last year’s Woolf Award was won by Javier Castellano, who became the 74th Woolf recipient, dating back to the inaugural winner in 1950, Gordon Glisson.

Return to December 6 issue of Wire to Wire