George Woolf, nicknamed “Iceman”, is regarded as one of the greatest riders to ever sit on the back of a racehorse. Born on May 31, 1910 in Cardston, Alberta, Woolf grew up riding horses. His father was a rancher who competed in rodeos and his mother was a trick rider in a circus.
Woolf began his career as a professional jockey in 1918 in Vancouver, British Columbia and soon after made Arcadia, California his home. While Santa Anita Park was his home base, The Iceman traveled back and forth across the country riding in and winning many of the biggest races in thoroughbred racing.
George (seen on the left, galloping the legendary Seabiscuit) earned his nickname because of his exceptionally calm demeanor, his patience during a race to make the winning move at just the right time and his uncanny ability to judge how fast a horse was running. As great as he was, he suffered from a medical condition that prohibited him from riding on a full time basis.
Most jockeys may ride as many as a thousand races per year but Woolf could only accept mounts a few times a week, limiting him to about 150-200 races per year. He suffered from what is now known as Type I Diabetes. Little was known about diabetes during the 1930’s and 40’s and managing it was very difficult. Although George was injecting himself daily with insulin, dosage was hard to gauge and doctors had him on a high protein diet which is not the typical diet of race riders.
Despite his limitations, George Woolf was much in demand. He won 97 major stakes races across the country including the Havre de Grace Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, American Derby and Belmont Futurity Stakes all three years in a row. He also won the Pimlico Special in 1938, 1940 and 1942.
His most memorable win came in the great match race between 1937 Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, and 1938 Horse of the Year, Seabiscuit. Following the advice of his good friend Red Pollard who was Seabiscuit’s regular rider and injured at the time, Woolf piloted Seabiscuit to a four length victory over the heavily favored War Admiral.
George Woolf once said that horses were in his blood and he would be with them until the day he died. On January 3, 1946 Woolf agreed to ride Please Me, a horse belonging to a friend who was in need of a jockey, even though he wasn’t feeling well. Rounding the clubhouse turn, Woolf slipped from Please Me’s back and landed head first on the ground. He never regained consciousness and died in the wee hours of the morning on January 4, 1946.
It is believed that he simply fainted or became dizzy due to his diabetes but the head injuries he received from hitting the ground claimed his life. Flags were flown at Half Mast while the country mourned the passing of one of the country’s best and most respected jockeys.
Shortly after his death, the George Woolf Memorial Award was created to honor a jockey each year who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the track. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, as well as Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Woolf is also honored by a life size bronze statue at Santa Anita Park and in his home town of Cardston, Alberta at the Remington Carriage Museum. The 2015 winner of the George Woolf Award is Mike Luzzi. Source. Don’t forget to check out our reviews of the best online racebooks.