11/23/2015 1:12PM

Castellano, Espinoza among five finalists for 2016 Woolf Award

Barbara D. Livingston
Javier Castellano is one of five finalists for the 2016 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.

Javier Castellano, the reigning Eclipse Award-winning rider, and Victor Espinoza, who piloted American Pharoah to the Triple Crown, are two of the five finalists for the 2016 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, it was announced Monday by Santa Anita.

The other finalists are Joe Bravo, Gerard Melancon, and Joe Steiner, all veteran riders.

The Woolf Award is presented to a jockey whose career and personal character earn esteem for both the rider and the sport. It is named in memory of the Hall of Fame jockey who suffered fatal injuries in a racing accident at Santa Anita on Jan. 3, 1946.

This year’s finalists are an entirely new quintet from the five of a year ago, when Mike Luzzi was selected as the winner. None of last year’s also-rans – James Graham, Leslie Mawing, Corey Nakatani, nor the now-retired Rosie Napravnik – made the final ballot this year.

All five finalists are men. The Woolf Award has never been won by a female rider.

The Woolf Award has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950. It is held in conjunction with the Jockeys’ Guild and is voted on by jockeys nationwide. The winner is scheduled to be announced in February, and the award is expected to be presented in March during Santa Anita’s main winter meeting.

Castellano, 38, already this year has set a single-season record for earnings and will be a strong candidate to earn an Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey for the third straight year. He has won 4,257 races in North America during his accomplished career. He is the son-in-law of Terry Meyocks, the national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild.

The inclusion of Espinoza, 43, on the ballot is overdue, for there is a faction in the Jockeys’ Guild that kept him off the ballot in recent years owing to Espinoza not being a member of the organization. There’s no denying his qualifications based on what the Woolf Award stands for, though, since Espinoza has won the Kentucky Derby three times, has 3,255 career wins, and has donated countless hours and money to charity, most notably City of Hope for pediatric cancer research.

Bravo, 44, won the 5,000th race of his career in May and is now up to 5,054 victories, many at Monmouth Park, where his dominance over the years earned him the nickname “Jersey Joe.”

Melancon, 48, has won 4,422 races while riding primarily in his native Louisiana. He has overcome substance-abuse issues that nearly derailed his career in the late 1980s.

Steiner, 51, has won 1,042 races while riding mostly in California and his native Washington state. He has persevered through numerous serious injuries that kept him from race riding from 2005 until 2011, and he’s having his best season in more than 20 years in 2015.