12/21/2012 12:55PM

Turfway Park: Prescott stunned to be among George Woolf finalists

Pat Lang Photography
Rodney Prescott winning the Wishing Well Stakes at Turfway Park aboard Lou's Angel, is closing in on 3,000 wins for his career.

When he was just a kid coming up through the racetrack ranks as a groom and exercise rider, Rodney Prescott didn’t dare imagine that one day he would be so honored.

Now 38, Prescott is seeing a lifetime of hard work coming to fruition this Christmas season with a pair of major honors. Into Friday action at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, Prescott was just three winners away from hitting the 3,000-win milestone, and perhaps more significantly, he was recently announced as one of five nominees for the annual George Woolf Memorial Award, which will be formally presented in March at Santa Anita. Ramon Dominguez was the 2012 honoree.

“I was really shocked at being nominated for the Woolf Award,” Prescott said in a recent phone interview. “It’s such a great, great honor, very humbling. I never would have thought that I would be up for it.”

Prescott was born and raised in the small town of Portland on the northeastern border of Indiana. He said he never thought about being a jockey until his senior year of high school, after which he went to work on the backstretch at Turfway, located about 2 1/2 hours away.

“I grew up on a farm, where horses were our recreation,” he said. “We didn’t have racehorses. It was just something I did without really thinking about making a career of it.”

His first win came in June 1994 at River Downs in Cincinnati, where he and his wife, Beth Anne, now live with their two children, Anna and Austin. Over the ensuing 18-plus years, Prescott has been fortunate to escape serious injury while becoming known as a consummate professional when making a year-round circuit of tracks in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

“I missed six weeks with a broken collarbone and five weeks with a cracked vertebra,” he said. “I consider myself very lucky.”

Prescott said his career highlight was finishing second to Russell Baze in wins in North America in 2005, when he had 340 winners from a whopping 2,056 mounts.

“Riding more than 2,000 horses in a year, that’s pretty hard to do,” he said. “I only did it the one time, and I’m sure I’ll never do it again.”

When he hits the 3,000 mark, he will tie a long-retired New England jockey named Darrell Madden for 161st on the all-time list. They are ahead of No. 163, Perry A. Winters (2,984), who last rode in September at Northlands Park in western Canada.

Obscure names? You might say so. Regardless, Prescott takes pride in being the all-time leading rider at Hoosier Park in suburban Indianapolis and at having built a reputation within the region as a solid, reliable, and experienced pro.

“I’m just pretty fortunate to have the career I’ve had and ridden for the people I’ve ridden for over the years,” he said. “I’ve been really lucky.”

Voting for the Woolf Award is done by North American jockeys, with results being announced next month on HRTV. The other four nominees for the 2013 award are Javier Castellano, Perry Compton, David Flores, and Mario Pino.

Day racing at Turfway

The Turfway schedule makes it usual holiday-week switch to daytime racing, effective Wednesday through Jan. 1. That’s seven straight days of racing, with the only change in post time being on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31), when special first post is 3 p.m. Eastern and the facility will remain open until 1:45 a.m. Turfway is offering a number of options for ontrack fans to celebrate the New Year, with more information available at Turfway.com.

Mainly for bookkeeping purposes, the holiday meet ends with the Dec. 31 card and the winter-spring meet begins Jan. 1. The lone remaining stakes at the holiday meet is the $50,000 Holiday Cheer next Saturday, Dec. 29. Eight stakes are on the winter-spring docket, culminating with the $500,000 Spiral Stakes on March 23.

As of Friday, entries already have been drawn through the program of Thursday, Dec. 27.

Arroyo rises to the top

Heading into the final weekend of action before the two-day Christmas break (Monday and Tuesday), Norberto Arroyo Jr. continues to lead the jockey standings with a 15-12 lead over Prescott. This has been a terrific comeback meet for Arroyo, the Puerto Rico native who had not ridden competitively in more than three years after serving prison time on drug charges.

The trainer standings are much tighter. Through Thursday night, four trainers were tied for first with four wins apiece, including Tommy Drury, who was perfect with his first four starters. Three others were right behind with three wins.

Ouzts passes Fires in career mounts

The man with many milestones, Perry Ouzts, recently rode his 45,000th mount at Turfway. Ouzts passed his cousin, Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires, when riding his 45,030th mount Thursday night. Only two other jockeys have had more mounts: Russell Baze, who will pass the 50,000 mark in early 2013, and Laffit Pincay Jr. (48,486).

Ouzts is 16th in wins with 6,052.

Lots of speed in sprint feature

The feature Sunday at Turfway, the ninth of 10 races, is a third-level allowance sprint that drew a speed-heavy field of eight fillies and mares. Top contenders include Kel’s Dreamer, More Miss Crissy, and Dixie Jackpot.

The purse is $27,000, although half of that is restricted to horses eligible to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. One other allowance (race 7) also is on the card. First post is 1:10 p.m.

◗ As usual, the last day of training at Churchill Downs is Dec. 30, with the stable area closing for routine winter maintenance until mid-March. As of this past week, about 200 horses remained on the grounds, with most of them heading to Oaklawn Park for the meet that starts Jan. 11.

◗ Earl “Dickie” Bowman, a longtime clocker at Keeneland who in his earlier days trained a small string of horses, died last Sunday in his native Lexington after a lengthy illness at age 84. He is survived by his wife, Thelma, and six grown children. Services were held Wednesday.