02/22/2013 9:28PM

Merlin Volzke, jockey and California steward, dead at 87

Benoit Photo
Merlin Volzke was a steward at Bay Meadows and Los Alamitos for 26 years.

Longtime rider and racing official Merlin Volzke, 87, died at his home in Sacramento on Thursday night.

A native of York, Neb., Volzke recorded his first victory at Aqua Caliente in Mexico in 1942 and retired from riding in 1979. He then served as a steward at Bay Meadows and Los Alamitos for 26 years before retiring in 2005.

Volzke guided Native Diver to his first stakes victory in the 1961 El Camino Handicap at the old Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, Calif. He also won the 1970 Hollywood Derby with Hanalei Bay. Volzke's other major stakes wins included the 1964 San Pasqual with Phil D., the 1968 San Gabriel and 1969 Kilroe Mile with Rivet, and the 1969 San Miguel Stakes with Mr. Joe F.

Volzke won back-to-back riding title at Longacres in Renton, Wash., in 1947-48.

Volzke was voted the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award at Santa Anita in 1958 and the Jack Robinson Memorial Award at Bay Meadows in 1975. In 2009, he became the first former rider to be awarded the Laffit Pincay Jr. Award, presented annually to an individual who has served the sport of horse racing with integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination, and distinction.

Volzke is survived by his wife, Catherine, a daughter, Eileen Miller, a granddaughter, a grandson and three great grandsons. 

Services will be private.

Ann Mitchell Adam More than 1 year ago
West Coast racing needs people like him multiplied by 100 in order to bring back it's place in even GOOD racing. Where has his ethic and kindness gone? Why aren't more stepping up? R. I. P. VOLZKE
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was introduced to Merlin by my mother and father. I saw Merlin ride at Longacres, Tanforan, Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows. I agree with all comments regarding what a great man he was. He taught me kindness at the racetrack. I'll never forget the plane trip to Longacres with Merlin and the time I saw him ride at Santa Anita. After Merlin retired from riding and being a California Steward, I had the pleasure of working beside him as a Mutuel Clerk. God Bless his wife Catherine, daughter Eileen, grand daughter Robyn and her brother Marty. Love, Jewell
Greg Brent More than 1 year ago
Merlin Volzke was a total class act on all levels. A great race rider and a wonderful family man. He was a fixture in Northern California racing for so many years until he retired from riding and became a Steward. Saddened to hear of his passing....glad I had an opportunity to know him.
Robyn Miller More than 1 year ago
On behalf of Merlin's family, your comments have lifted our spirits and reminded us that our "Pop" leaves a remarkable legacy behind in the racing community. My brother and I fondly remember the times we got to enter the winners circle, weigh on the jock's scale, scream at the fence as Pop was coming down the stretch, listen to the live race results on the radio as we rode in the back seat of the car - whipping the car as if we were on the horse with Pop. Much of our growing up as children was experienced at GGF or Bay Meadows and we will always hold a special place in our heart for all of you that supported and enjoyed watching our amazing Pop - and your jockey "Merlin the Magician". Thank you... Robyn (granddaughter)
Justin More than 1 year ago
I remember Merlin from his days strolling the grounds at Bay Meadows. A true class act if there ever was one..
James Pugliese More than 1 year ago
I remember as a kid merlin riding at bay meadows and golden gate fields he was a good solid horseman and honest gentleman. god bles ! thanks merlin.
Robert Danna More than 1 year ago
I remember the Win on Hanalei Bay, Corn off the Cobb was shipping in from New York, Big Choice to win the Hollywood derby. I was going to play HB no matter what they said about Corn off the cobb, and I did. I have always seen that race in my mind over and over, Harry Henson calling it from the Half Mile pole home a Two horse race, Head and Head to the finish, neither Horse or Jockey giving an inch, and HB winning by a head in the final stride. Mr. Volzke was not a Flashy rider but, a rider won rode to win each time he got on a horse, no matter what the odds. God Bless his family and may he rest in the arms of God forever. Bob Danna
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
He was known at Longacres to have great feel for what the horse was telling and responded to make winners out of losers. He was also a gentleman.
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
I was there saw it watched it and loved it..he was a top rider...those were the good days of racing..RIP ........................ God Bless the Family
Ruben Flores Diaz More than 1 year ago
Another graduate from Caliente, I think Caliente has never been given the credit it deserves a far as how california racing evolved and the innovations it aforded to racing as we see it today,
David Beltran More than 1 year ago
...you can say that again.