Cardston’s Own George Woolf

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CraigBaird

Many of Cardston’s residents have gone on to achieve success in the world over the years. There have been those who were world famous, like Fay Wray, and those who were the best in their field, like George Woolf.
Woolf was born on May 31, 1910 on a ranch in Cardston to a mother who was a trick rider in the circus, and a father who rode in rodeos. Naturally, it did not take long for Woolf to fall in love with riding horses and by the time he was a teenager, he was riding in horse races and competing in rodeos throughout Alberta.
The ancestors of Woolf had achieved plenty of success long before George came along. His grandfather Absalom Woolf served in the Utah militia for a number of years, and his ancestor Peter Woolf was an early settler of New York. He was also related to Charles O. Card, the founder of Cardston.
By 1928, George Woolf was racing as a professional in Vancouver before moving to California and using Santa Anita Park as his home base. It was at this point that he became one of the best jockeys of his era. He would earn the name Iceman for his ability to wait until the right time to make a move with his horse in a race, and his ability to nap before races, while other jockeys paced around.
In the early-1930s, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. As such, he regulated his weight and would race in 150 to 200 races per year, compared to 1,000 races that some jockeys took part in.
Through his career, he would win 97 major stakes races including the Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes, Belmont Futurity Stakes and the American Derby, three years in a row. In 1935, he won the first $100,000 horse race riding Azucar. He would also finish second twice at the Kentucky Derby and would win the 1936 Preakness Stakes.
In 1938, he rode the legendary Seabiscuit to victory over War Admiral, the heavily-favoured US Triple Crown champion. He rode Seabiscuit after his close friend, Red Pollard, had been injured. Until his death, he would also say that Seabiscuit was the best horse he ever rode.
Sadly, his career would be cut short when he fell off his horse during a race at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 3, 1946. He was taken to the hospital after suffering a concussion but died the next day. At his funeral, Gene Autry would sing.
Over the course of his career, he would have 3,784 mounts, 721 wins, 589 seconds and 468 thirds. He would finish in the money nearly half the time (46 per cent).
After his death at the age of 35, the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award was created. In 1950, a statue of George Woolf was erected at Santa Anita Park. In 1955, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The following year, he was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame. In 1976, he was one of the first jockeys inducted to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Today, he is considered to be one of the greatest jockeys of all time.
Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast form. Find his show on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/CanadianHistoryEhx
Information for this column comes from Wikipedia.
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