Monday, 02 December 2013 09:08

The Iceman by Garry Allison

Written by Garry Allison - Rocky Mountain Turf Club
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Rocky Mountain Turf Club
They called Cardston's George Monore Woolf the Iceman because he seemed devoid of fear and
was always cool and composed, despite the pressures and dangers of thoroughbred racing.


Veteran rider and trainer Johnny Longden also called Woolf one of the three best jockeys he'd
ever ridden against, along with Willie Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro.
"Horses ran for George and he was utterly fearless," Longden said during his final visit to Lethbridge
in the early 1990s.
Woolf, a member, of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Racing Hall of Fame and the
Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, was born in Cardston May 30, 1910 and as a child always
had an interest in horses.
A second cousin, Lee Woolf of Cardston, says George's father, Frank, used to own the Woolf
Hotel on main street in Cardston and says the nickname Iceman was given to George  because of
his cold, steely personality.
Woolf's racing career really began on the Prairie Circuit, which included tracks at Raymond, Cardston,
Magrath, Taber and Lethbridge and up to Calgary, where often competed against Longden,
who was to become a good friend.
Woolf went from Calgary to Vancouver, Tijuana and  California in the late 1920s with Whitey
Whitehall to begin what was to be one of the great racing careers. Despite the fact he rode mainly
at 120 pounds, which limited his mounts, Woolf became the first freelance stakes riding
Woolf and Longden raced against each other on the bush tracks of southern Alberta and on the
major race tracks of North America, from Florida and New York to Chicago and Santa Anita in
"George was a good rider, and good friend" said Longden, who won 6,032 races during his
40-year career. "But when we got out there on the track and racing, we ceased being friends."
Joe Bengry of Cardston, just a few months before his death at age 97, remembered his cousin, the
young George Woolf.
"My uncle Frank Woolf (George's father), was a stage driver before the trains came into
Cardston," said Bengry. "He drove from the OK Livery Stable to Spring Coulee. George lived
with us on the farm . . . when his folks were away he'd spend time with us. Uncle Frank was real
small, he wore a size four shoe, like his wife (Rosina). None of us was ever a real jockey though,
except George."
During his brief career Woolf earned $2,856,125, riding 3,784 horses. He won 721 races, was
second 589 times and third 486 times. Which means he finished in the money 47 per cent of the
time, a percentage which still stands among the best more than a half century after his death.
His major wins include the Preakness in 1936 on Bold Venture and 1938 at Pimilco on
Seabiscuit. He won the Belmont Stakes three straight times, on Occupation in 1942, Occupy in
1943 and Pavot in 1944.
He won the first three runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup, aboard the immortal Seabiscuit in
1938, then Kayak II in 1939 and Challedon in 1940.
Woolf and Seabiscuit were to come together again in winning style in 1938 in what sportswriter
Grantland Rice called "one of the greatest match races ever run in the ancient history of the turf."
The match pitted Seabiscuit against a horse many said was the greatest of all time, War Admiral.
Woolf was aboard Seabiscuit and the gallant pair set a Pimlico track record at 1:56 as they
outdistanced the gallant War Admiral. Woolf and Seabisccuit are imortalized in bronze none the plush
lawns of the Remingron Carriage Museum in Cardston.
The Kentucky Derby was the only major stakes race George didn't win, finishing second twice, losing
to Whirlaway aboard Staretor in 1941 and losing to Pensive in 1944 aboard Broadcloth. He ran
for the roses nine times, actually finishing last once on a misnamed horse called Billionaire.
The Cardston rider and his friend Longden, were instrumental in beginning the Jockey's Guild
and throughout his career Woolf was known for his care for fellow jockeys and his
sportsmanship. The George Woolf Memorial Award for the most sportsmanlike jockey is still
awarded yearly at Santa Anita.
"We even had a match race once in earlier times," said Longden. "And as we turned for home George said 'let's
make a race of this.' I said 'to heck with you, I'm not going to let you get close to me.' George
could be tricky. I beat him by half a length."
Woolf died suddenly and violently on Jan. 4, 1946, at age 35 - he had been scheduled to return
home to Cardston in July to appear at the Cardston rodeo - when a horse called Please Me
stumbled and pitched him head first onto the sharp rail during a race at santa Anita. He was
leading the race at the time.
It has only become common knowledge in recent times that Woolf, a longtime Type One
Diabetic who kept his ailment secret, may have blacked out from insulin shock, leading to the
fatal fall, smacking his head against the rail.
Woolf never regained consciousness and was dead within two hours.
Fittingly, at George's funeral, western star Gene Autry sang Empty Saddles during the service.
After his death, racing associations replaced all the sharp-cornered rails with rounded ones
throughout the United States.
In her amazing best-seller, Seabiscuit, author Laura Hillenbrand says many felt Woolf was the
greatest riding talent racing ever saw.
Woolf is quoted in the book as saying riding "is as natural as walking to me," adding
prophetically "I'll be with them until I die."

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