Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Yesterday, Turf Paradise track announcer Michael Chamberlain wrote an endorsement on his blog They Are Off and today I’m following suite. Let’s hope Mr. Stevens does better with the Woolf voters than Romney is pollsters.
I first met Scott Stevens in 1980 at Les Bois Park in Boise, Idaho. He was the leading rider at that summer meeting and I was an assistant starter. Scott’s father Ron, trained and brother Gary was the leading apprentice and nobody outside of then Jockeys’ Guild representative Taylor Powell knew of the talent at the small track in Southern Idaho at that time.
It has been some 20 years since I last spoke with Scott, but as a friend, I have followed his now 30-plus year career.
Brother Gary Stevens made the major leagues of horse racing as a jockey but Scott has been no stranger to success either. Gary graduated to a Hall of Fame career including winning the Kentucky Derby three times (1988, Winning Colors; ’95, Grindstone; Silver Charm, 1997) and five other Triple Crown races. Scott graduated to a successful level on mid-west circuits like Turf Paradise, where he has won more than 4,000 races; and Canterbury Park in Minnesota, where he is the all-time leading rider.
Scott Stevens has overcome several life-threatening injuries during his career including a spill at Canterbury Park in 2010 that left him with a broken sternum, both collarbones and several broken ribs -- some in more than one place -- and had a tear in his spleen. He has since returned to riding at both Turf Paradise and Canterbury but for the second consecutive year was injured at the Shakopee, Minn. Oval, breaking his right shoulder in a morning starting gate accident.
But it is not leading rider statistics, tenacity to recover from injury or Hall of Fame inductions (Scott Stevens is a member of both the Canterbury Park and Idaho Halls), that have made Stevens’ career or garnered his Woolf nomination. Scott Stevens has long been known as a leader in the jockeys’ quarters and has worked off the track throughout his career for the betterment of his fellow riders and in the communities outside of racing also.
The George Woolf Memorial Award is presented annually by Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles to a jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack. The award was first presented to jockey Gordon Glisson in 1950 and Gary Stevens won in 1996. Interestingly, Gary Stevens also played George Woolf in the 2003 major motion picture Seabiscuit. Should Scott win the Woolf Award, he and Gary will be the only brothers to be so honored. Ismail and Pat Valenzuela are uncle and nephew and won the George Woolf in 1963 and 1982 respectively.
The one-time-only award is voted on by members of the Jockeys' Guild who chose from among their peers nominated by Guild regional managers. The trophy that goes along with the award is a one-foot-high replica of the life-size statue of George Woolf that, along with a bronze sculpture of his favorite mount, Seabiscuit, has a place of honor in the Santa Anita Paddock Gardens.
Other nominees for the 2012 George Woolf award are jockeys Ramon Dominguez, Corey Lanerie, Martin Pedroza, and DeShawn Parker.