Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Iceman of the Saddle

This is an excerpt from the book: Champions by Setback, Athletes Who Overcame Physical Handicaps


George Monroe Woolf 

THEY called him by many names, King George, Sit Chilly, 
The Money Rider, Lead Pad, The Montana Cowboy. But one 
fitted as though tailor-made and this was the one that stuck 
The Iceman. 

His coolness in controlling 1200 pounds of thundering 
horseflesh, his faculty for carrying through his plotted strat- 
egy in a race despite provocation of other jockeys or beguiling 
circumstances made the name a natural one. 

"He was all fire inside and all ice outside," said Marshall 
Cassidy, a leading race starter and executive secretary of the 
New York Jockey Club. 

George Monroe Woolf was his name, but The Iceman be- 
came his accolade, and his epitaph. 

The racing world bespoke his greatness in the tackroom, 
the stable and the clubhouse. From Gulfstream Park in 
Florida to Santa Anita in California, they used to say, in 
tribute to his precision sense of pace, "He rides with a clock 
in his head/' 


In admiration of his powerful hands, amazingly large for 
a man who was five feet one inch tall and weighed 115 
pounds, they would remark, "Georgie could hold an elephant 
an inch away from a peanut until it was feeding time." 

No jockey was his superior in an understanding of horses 
and the racing folk would recognize this by saying, "The 
horses run kindly for Georgie." 

This was his heritage, a love and understanding of horses. 
It came from his grandfather, a trapper of wild horses in 
Utah, and from his father, Frank Henry Woolf, a range rider, 
stagecoach driver and horse breeder in Montana and Western 
Canada. For several years Frank Woolf managed the race 
horse farm of the Prince of Wales, later known to the world 
as the Duke of Windsor following a brief reign as Britain's 
King Edward. 

George was born in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, in May of 
1910. When he was still a tot his father moved the family 
back to Montana, to a ranch which ran for many acres along 
the boundary of a Blackfoot Indian reservation. 

The boy grew up with horses. The stable was his nursery, 
and instead of fairy tales he drank in stories of great horses 
and their riders. Hardly was he out of diapers when he started 
riding himself, first on a gentle, retired stage horse and then 
on younger and more spirited animals, including the Indian 

At eight the blond, blue-eyed boy was riding his father's 
quarter horses in races over makeshift courses, tied to the 
saddle by rawhide thongs. As he grew older he worked on 
ranches, in stables, occasionally riding. For the rest of his life 
he never stopped riding. 

It was inevitable that he become a jockey, a status that he 



achieved when he was fifteen. At that time, he weighed ninety 

Over the greater part of his career he was accounted one of 
the world's best riders. To many turf followers he was with- 
out a peer. 

Invariably, after he became a star rider, the turf writers 
would seek him out when he arrived from California each 
spring to ride on the circuit of major eastern tracks, what the 
racing people called the "Big Apple." Often one of the ques- 
tions of the interviews was, "What was the greatest horse you 
ever rode ?" 

He tired in time of giving a direct reply and made a little 
game out of it. He'd say to his wife Genevieve, who always 
accompanied him on his trips, "What do you say, honey? 
You can read my mind." 

The brown-haired girl would declare, like a child reciting 
for company, "Mr. George Woolf, the well-known jockey, 
has ridden more than 3500 horses. Some were great, some 
were good and some were bad. But in Mr. Woolf 's opinion 
the grrrrrreatest of them all was the 'Biscuit Seabiscuit." 

The little man in the big western hat and the cowboy boots 
would grin and say, "That's it, fellows. You heard the lady." 

His tribute to Seabiscuit should have been unnecessary. 
How could any turf follower not remember that day at 
Pimlico when the litde man rode forth on the little horse in 
the most famous match race in America? Seabiscuit against 
War Admiral 

The greatest race horse of his time, War Admiral was 
called, and the race followers of a continent who came to 
Baltimore for the match established the son of the immortal 
Man o' War a four-to-one favorite. He was the unbeaten 


champion of the three-year-olds and the winner of the triple 
crown the Belmont, the Preakness, and the Kentucky Derby. 
Only three times before had a horse achieved this. 

And Seabiscuit ? Although he had lost thirty races out of 
thirty-five as a two-year-old and fourteen out of twenty-three 
as a three-year-old, he had developed into a great racer, the 
holder of fourteen track records. But at five years old he was 
in middle age as race horses go. And always he ran under 
handicaps. His front knees were sprung, the left one quite 
badly, which gave him a splayed, duck-like style of running. 

Once, with The Iceman riding him, he ruptured the sus- 
pensory muscle of his left leg (and a quick-witted news 
photographer obtained a famous picture showing the horse 
limping from the track, leaning on the cooperative shoulder 
of the little jockey). In most cases such an injury dictated the 
retirement of a race horse, but Seabiscuit came back. 

Not the least of his handicaps was excess weight. The little 
horse loved eating so much that finally he was muzzled for 
twenty-two of the twenty-four hours each day. But still, 
particularly during enforced layoffs, he put on weight and 
had to be exercised wearing a rubber hood to sweat the fat 
off him. 

Five times before the match race had been scheduled but 
always it had been canceled, twice because of injuries to Sea- 
biscuit And when the terms for the race on November i, 1938, 
were agreed on by Samuel Riddle, owner of War Admiral, 
and Charles S. Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, they gave the 
Admiral what all race experts agreed was a huge advantage 
almost an assurance of victory. 

War Admiral was regarded as the fastest breaking horse in 
the world. And once he jumped out in front he almost in- 



variably stayed there, a tireless locomotive of the track. Riddle 
insisted on and was granted a walk-up start. The getaway 
flag would fall only if the two horses approached the starting 
line nose and nose. Thus he made certain that War Admiral's 
jet-propelled breakaway could not be hampered by a fluke, 
such as might occur in a mechanical starting gate. 

Seabiscuit, on the other hand, was only an indifferent 
starter. His forte was hanging on like a bulldog and driving 
through in the stretch. 

All these facts were carefully calculated by the bettors, who 
ran up the odds against SeabiscuiL Strangely, few were 
swayed by the singularly appropriate experience of the 
'Biscuit's rider, Georgie Woolf . 

Few modern jockeys have had much experience with a 
walk-up start; it is used only infrequently today. But Woolf 
had had such experience a great deal of it. 

As a boy in Montana and Western Canada he had ridden 
quarter horses, the short, tough-muscled cowponies, in scores 
of races, always with a standing or walk-up start 

Often the races were held over narrow, winding paths and 
the horse which got off in front ran with a strong advantage. 
Thus the riders and their horses practiced starting for hour 
upon hour. 

Woolf did the same with SeabiscuiL His wife Genevieve 
said, "Morning after morning George worked with the horse 
in walking up to the starting line and dashing off from there. 
In the match race a loud bell would be used to signal the start. 
To get Seabiscuit used to this George bought the largest alarm 
clock he could find and held it near the horse's ear in the ap- 
proach to the starting line. As soon as Seabiscuit would touch 
the starting line George would set off the alarm." 



The largest crowd to watch a horse race in Maryland sat 
tensely in the stands of the hilltop course as the two horses 
pranced out of the paddock on to the track. 

Charlie Kurtsinger, a capable and methodical rider, was 
mounted on War Admiral. Before saddling up he told news- 
men that he had never had to call on the champion for his 
best "He's got a lot of speed he never showed/' he said. 

The big horse and the little horse minced up to the starting 
line, but a shade unevenly; and the starter, Marshall Cassidy, 
sent them back for another try. Again they approached the 
line, and Cassidy sent them back a second time. The crowd 
uttered a groan. 

A third time they walked up to the line and then, the shriek 
of the turf "They're off!" 

The shriek turned instantly into a gasp of amazement. As 
the bell clanged Woolf 's whip hit once, twice, and a third 
time. It had never been used on the 'Biscuit before but Woolf, 
master horseman, felt it was judicious now. 

The little horse running under the devil's red and white 
colors shot away like a bullet. Two bounds and he was in 
front. A dozen more and he was drawing away. The Iceman 
had done the impossible. He had beaten War Admiral away 
from the starting line. 

Woolf s juvenile impishness leaped out at this point and, 
crouched low over his horse's poll, he twisted his neck and 
taunted Kurtsinger, "Didn't think I could do it, did you, 

Never had a jockey given Seabiscuit a better ride. He drew 
half a length ahead and made it a full length as the horses 
passed the stands for the first time in the mile and three-six- 
teenths sprint. 



Now the surprise lead won by Woolf paid dividends. War 
Admiral had started in the advantageous pole position. Woolf 
cut across, taking the rail as the horses entered the long 
straightaway, increasing his lead to two full lengths. 

The horses swept around the clubhouse, The Iceman 
steadying the bay, content to hold his advantage. On the back- 
stretch Kurtsinger made his bid, calling for the best he said 
War Admiral had never been required before to give. The 
Riddle horse responded and over the space of sixty yards he 
cut down the entire deficit. 

"There he goes! 5 ' roared the fans. Now, they felt, War 
Admiral would take command. 

Woolf, balanced above the postage-stamp saddle, looked 
over at Kurtsinger and grinned. "Get the whip ready, Charlie," 
he shouted above the pounding hoofs. "I'm going to make 
you run." He let the reins out a bit and Seabiscuit's ears flat- 
tened. Nose to nose the two horses swung around the far turn. 
Kurtsinger's black and yellow arm came down, flailing at 
War Admiral, but he couldn't draw away, couldn't gain an- 
other inch. 

The horses turned for home and once more The Iceman 
spoke. "Good-bye, Charlie," he shouted. He didn't wait for a 

The litde horse flew onward, opening up new distance be- 
tween himself and the Admiral, a length, two lengths, three 
lengths and crossed the finish line four lengths in front, 
setting a new track record. 

Woolf brought the steaming Seabiscuit to the winner's 
circle as the crowd stood in a thunderous salute to a pair of 
sports immortals. Sportswriters pressed the jockey for a state- 



ment, but he grinned and said, "We did our talking on the 

Seabiscuit was oblivious to the acclaim. Calmly he reached 
around, seeking to nibble at the winner's wreath. He was 

There were two things that Georgie Woolf feared, deep 
water and the hoot of an owl. 

"As a boy in Montana," Genevieve explained, "he lived a 
great deal among the Blackfoot Indians. The Indian boys 
were his friends and he played, rode and hunted with them. 
One day an old Indian woman 'told his fortune,' looking deep 
into his eyes. 

"She warned that his death would come by drowning or 
would otherwise be heralded by the hooting of an owl at night. 

"Now George never went to school much. But he was 
telligent and he read a great deal. Yet he strongly believed 
those two superstitions. I remember that sometimes during 
the night in our home at Arcadia, California, he'd hear an 
owl hooting. George would jump out of bed, take down a 
gun and go hunting the owl." She added, "I don't believe he 
ever shot one, though. 

"As to water, he would never go a greater distance from 
shore than he could swim. Twice he was made rich offers to 
ride in England and France, but he turned them down. It 
would have meant crossing the ocean." 

For twenty-five years he made obeisance to the two super- 
stitions, but when misfortune overtook him it was without 
connection with the Indian prophecy. 

It made its appearance in the fall of 1941 after he and 



Genevieve had returned home to their ranch home in Arcadia 
following a successful season during which his horses won 
more than 350,000 in prize money. 

He began to feel unwell. He tired quickly, slept fitfully. He 
was losing weight. Although he drank vast quantities of water 
he was always thirsty. "I'm going to loaf, take it easy," he 
told Genevieve. He did, but the symptoms became aggravated. 

Mrs. Woolf urged him to visit a doctor and he muttered 
that he would, "one of these days," but she knew from his 
tone that he had no intention of doing so. 

He had never been ill and his experience with doctors was 
slight. In his mind they were fearfully associated with sur- 
gery and catastrophic illness. In the ranch country where he 
had lived as boy and youth, a doctor, usually summoned only 
in dire emergency, became the confirmation of disaster. 

He went daily to the Santa Anita race track, three miles 
away, soon to open its racing season. But only infrequently 
did he get on a horse. Frank Sullivan, an ex-jockey who was 
his valet for twelve years, said, "He used to show up at the 
track, stretch out on a bench in the jockey room and say, e l 
feel terrible. Sully. I'm worn out. And my eyes are bother- 
ing me.' " 

He was seeing spots before his eyes and was plagued at 
times by double images in his vision. He returned home one 
afternoon white-faced and tense. "I almost got killed," he told 
his wife. "One of the exercise boys was galloping a horse and 
I walked across the track in front of him. I didn't see the horse 
and I would have been run down if the boy hadn't yelled. 

"I don't know what's the matter with my eyes." 

Mrs. Woolf picked up his Western hat from the sofa where 
he had flung it and handed it to htm. "You can't put it off 


any more, George," she said. "You've got to go to a doctor 
and now." 

She saw the momentary conflict in his eyes and then read 
with thankfulness the evidence of decision in the tightening 
of his jaw muscles. "Okay," he said. "I'm going." 

He drove in his low red convertible to Arcadia's main street 
and parked before the office of a specialist in diseases of the 

The physician examined his eyes, tested his vision and 
found no evidence of disease or malfunction. "Your eyes are 
excellent/' he told the jockey. "I suspect that the trouble you 
are having with your eyes is a symptom of something else. 
How do you feel generally?" 

The Iceman told of his constant tiredness, his great thirst ? 
loss of weight, and the doctor questioned him further. "I think 
I know what your illness is/' he said finally. "You ought to 
see your family physician, and I wouldn't delay." 

Woolf mumbled his thanks and walked dejectedly from the 
office. For a long time he sat in the car at the curb in unhappy 
conflict He was apprehensive about what a physical examina- 
tion would show and yet he felt he couldn't continue feeling 
sick and wretched. 

Finally he made up his mind. He pressed the starter button 
and eased the car into the traffic. Genevieve had been attended 
in a recent illness by Dr. William H. Heidenreich. He would 
see him. 

It was early evening when the jockey returned home, and 
Genevieve caught her breath to hold back an exclamation of 
pity at the sick despair in his eyes. Wearily he lowered him- 
self into an armchair, and his wife drew up an ottoman under 
his booted feet. She removed his hat, loosened his tie. 



He smiled bitterly. "I've had my last ride, Genevieve," he 
said. "I can't ever ride again I'm through." 

She remained silent and he resumed. "I went to see an oc- 
culist. He said there was nothing wrong with my eyes, so I 
went over to Dr. Heidenreich's. He looked me over, tested 
my blood and water. He said I've got diabetes. That finishes 
me as a rider." 

She said calmly, "I know people who have diabetes and get 
along all right, George. You'll be all right, too. You'll see. 
Didn't Dr. Heidenreich give you any medicine ? What is it 
that they take, insulin?" 

"Medicine," he snorted. "That isn't going to help. I'm not 
going to take it. He made out a diet for me and gave me a 
prescription for insulin and a needle and other stuff. You 
have to take it every day. Aw, what's the use. I'm finished." 

She accepted the futility of seeking to reason in his dis- 
turbed state. "Why don't you lie down, George." She began 
to pull off his boots. 

She went alone the next day to see the physician and told 
him, "My husband thinks he's finished as a jockey. He says 
he won't take the insulin. Funny," she mused, "he's got all 
the courage in the world but sickness has got him beat. He's 
like an Indian, fatalistic. I'm going to have to help him. Now 
what can I do?" 

The physician said, "Diabetes, Mrs. Woolf, is a serious ill- 
ness. But thousands of persons have learned to live comfort- 
ably with it through proper diet and use of insulin. I don't 
see why your husband shouldn't achieve this much at least. 
His sickness will be a handicap, but I think he will be able 
to return to riding after he has rested and gotten the diabetes 



in hand. Now the first thing you must do is learn about 

Diabetes, he explained, is a disease of the pancreas, a gland 
located in the abdomen. The illness develops when the pan- 
creas loses the power to secrete insulin which the body requires 
for the processing of food. With insulin lacking, much of the 
food is only partly processed, into sugar, instead of being 
utilized in the creation of tissues and a reserve of energy. As 
the sugar accumulates it reveals itself in the urine and blood- 

"Because the body is unable to process the food for use as 
new tissue and energy," he said, "the patient loses strength 
and weight, and he is always thirsty because the body de- 
mands water to dissolve the sugar. 

"If the patient goes untreated," he warned, "there is serious 
danger of diabetic coma and even death. 

"Now," he added briskly, "we want to do two things: get 
Mr. Woolf to take injections of insulin made from the pan- 
creas of animals, and go on a diet which will be heavy on 
proteins and light on carbohydrates, which turn readily into 

He showed Mrs. Woolf the needle and syringe used by 
diabetics. He demonstrated how to sterilize the instruments, 
how to measure the dose, and how to make the injection in a 
fold of loose skin which had been cleaned with alcohol. 

Carrying the insulin and equipment she had purchased in 
a drug store, Mrs. Woolf returned home- Her husband was 
away, probably at the track. While Dr. Heidenreich's words 
were still fresh in her mind, she wrote them down and then 
turned to studying and experimenting with the syringe and 


needle. She filled the syringe with water and went through 
the motions of making the injection. 

But the pretense wasn't very satisfactory, she thought. Sud- 
denly she arose, went to the refrigerator and took out a grape- 
fruit. She spent the next hour, and an hour a day thereafter 
for a week, practicing on the grapefruit. 

She formulated arguments to present to her husband when 
he came home to induce him to accept the medication, but 
they were never used. He returned from the track with ab- 
dominal pains, his breathing labored. 

"I can't take this any more," he said. "Will you call the drug 
store and have them send over the stuff that the doctor told 
me to get?" 

Genevieve held up for his inspection the newly-purchased 
kit. "I have it, George. Now take off your shirt. We'll start 
by injecting the insulin in your upper arm." 

The wondrous secretion coursed through his body as he 
slept and when he awoke the next morning the pain was gone 
and his breathing was normal. Before breakfast he submitted 
willingly to another injection of insulin. 

He spent three days in bed. Mrs. Woolf prepared his special 
meals and each morning she injected the insulin. Dr. Heiden- 
reich came to the ranch to examine him, noted the sharp de- 
cline in the sugar content of his blood and urine and showed 
Mrs. Woolf how to do the simple urinary test herself. 

On the fourth day the jockey got out of bed, dressed him- 
self. The flesh had begun to return to his strong little frame. 
His eyes were clear. "I feel pretty good, honey," he said. 

At the breakfast table she said, "You've had some phone 
calls in the past few days but I didn't want to bother you with 



them. Two of them were from fellows who offered to bet a 
thousand or two thousand for you if you'd give them a good 

"You knew where to tell them to go?" he asked and she 
nodded. "I did exactly that. 

"But there were three other calls/' she said, "riding jobs. I 
told the trainers you weren't feeling well. I said you were lay- 
ing off for a while and would call them later.*' 

He said slowly, "Guess well have to tell them all that I'm 
hanging up my tack. I can't ride any more." 

"George," she said earnestly, "you know that I'll go along 
with whatever you want to do. But this is bad. You're not 
being fair to yourself. Why, you're young. You're only 31. 
You're letting this thing lick you." 

He unfolded the morning newspaper, raised it as a curtain 
between them. "I can't ride, Genevieve," he said. 'I've got 
diabetes." Anger came into his voice. "You don't get over this. 
You always have it, as long as you live. How can I ride ?" 

During the next three weeks she made repeated appeals to 
his pride of courage and career and quoted medical opinion 
in an effort to arouse him to break the psychological bonds 
which held him rigid. And then, when she had exhausted all 
logic and argument, he himself inadvertently gave her a clue 
to another expedient 

Reading a racing newspaper, he said, "I see where Whitey 
bought a couple of horses. Haven't seen him in quite a while." 

Her heart leaped from excitement. Here was the man to 
help George, the veteran trainer whom he loved and re- 
spected as a father. 

With difficulty she contained her impatience until George 



had left the house. Then she picked up the telephone and 
told the operator, "I want to call Mr. Lemuel T. Whitehill at 
Chula Vista . . ." 

George was seventeen when his contract passed into the 
hands of Whitehill. Later, as the jockey began to show great- 
ness, other trainers would ask Whitehill where and how he 
had found Woolf . 

Always Whitehill would chuckle and say, "I found him in 
Vancouver and swapped a dead horse for him." It was quite 

Woolf was riding in Vancouver for a trainer named Fred 
Johnson when Whitehill came there looking for promising 
horses. He found none but became impressed with the riding 
qualities, the perfectly proportioned body and the strong 
hands and shoulders of George Woolf. 

Whitehill said, 'When the race meeting at Vancouver came 
to an end I talked to Johnson and told him I would like to 
take the boy with me to California and start him off as a rider 
in the big time. I offered to go fifty-fifty in the boy's contract 
but Johnson said no, he'd rather sell him outright. 

"Johnson wanted a horse, so I traded him a horse called 
Pickpocket for Woolf. Pickpocket was shipped to Winnipeg 
and died shortly after he was unloaded. It became a standing 
joke between George and me, that I got him for a dead horse." 

The boy went to live in Chuk Vista, in lower California 
near the Tiajuana race track, with Mr. and Mrs. Whitehill. 
Mrs. Whitehill mothered him, and she and her husband 
guided him through the problems and conflicts of youth. 
Whitehill, a stern taskmaster, rubbed smooth his riding 
technique, taught him physical conditioning and the practice 



of studying without cease the form and habits of the horses 
he was scheduled to mount or to ride against. 

He underwent a hazing in the hard world of the race track 
at Tiajuana, but his superb riding and his punishing fists soon 
won him respect. Temptations were laid before him but his 
personal integrity, supported by that of the Whitehills, was 
strong and he disdained them. 

As a rider he progressed rapidly. "If ever there was a born 
horseman," said Whitehill, "Georgie was it. He had ridden 
since he was a baby and he had a knowledge and understand- 
ing of horses that was uncanny. Riding seemed to come to 
him naturally, and you had to tell him something only once." 

He began to earn big money, $10,000 a year, $15,000 a year, 
$20,000 a year. Later in one afternoon he earned $10,840, ten 
per cent of the first prize money won by the imported steeple- 
chaser, Azucar, whom he piloted to victory against twelve-to- 
one odds in the Santa Anita Handicap. 

The Whitehills taught him how to save his money, but in 
one matter they couldn't restrain him. He loved the trappings 
of the West and bought them lavishly hats, silver ornaments, 
shirts, and boots. 

He was nineteen when, still living at Chula Vista, he met 
Genevieve Braun. Genevieve, fifteen, was a sophomore in San 
Ysidra High School. Her parents were employed in a Mexican 
border resort hotel. 

He introduced her to the Whitehills, who approved of the 
pretty, soft-spoken girl. They were married in her senior year 
in high school, just before he left for Chicago to ride. To her 
tearful plea to accompany him, to leave school, he answered, 
"You stay and get your diploma. One of us has got to be 


Shortly after his return from Chicago Whitehill called the 
jockey into the living room of his home and said., "Sit down, 
George. I have something important to talk to you about." 
He stood there for a moment, looking down at the rider, then 

"Son, the stable wants to buy your contract from me. 

They're offering me $20,000." The jockey started to rise and 
Whitehill said, "Wait a minute hear me through." Woolf 
sank back in his chair and the trainer continued. "I want to 
take up the offer, for your sake. That outfit is one of the big- 
gest in the East. They've got fine horses and you'll be able to 
make much more money with them than you can with 

"George, I don't think I've ever given you bad advice be- 
fore and I don't think I'm giving you bad advice now. Let's 
take up the offer." 

Woolf arose now and paced the floor, his head down. He 
stopped and looked up at Whitehill. "No," he said. "No, noth- 
ing doing. I want to stay here with you. I'm satisfied. I like it 
this way." 

He pointed a warning finger at Whitehill and the older 
man observed sympathetically that it was trembling, "Don't 
sell me," he said. "I won't report. I'll quit riding." 

Whitehill asked softly, "You're sure, George ? You're sure 
that's the way you want it?" 

"I'm sure." 

The trainer took a letter in an envelope out of his breast 
pocket and tore it into scraps. "Okay, George," he said. "That's 
the way it's going to be." 

It was like tearing up $20,000, but Whitehill said, "I never 
regretted it. That boy was one of the most loyal persons I ever 



knew in racing. In time his contract with me expired but he 
continued to stay with me, without a contract, for more than 
five years. That was the way he wanted it." 

Whitehill brought his string of horses to Santa Anita and 
he and Mrs. Woolf met in an Arcadia restaurant. She described 
in greater detail than she had over the telephone George's 
illness and his reaction to it. 

"I've done everything I could/' she finished unhappily. 
"Nothing helped. He says he's finished as a rider. I know that 
some day he'll hate himself if he doesn't go back to the track 
at least to prove to himself that he can ride again. I don't care 
what he does after that." 

"I've been thinking/' the trainer said. "You've tried rea- 
soning with him; it hasn't helped. Let's try something else. 
Let's somehow get him back to the track, back to horses. The 
fever of riding may take hold again." 

Whitehill came to the Woolf home for dinner the follow- 
ing evening, ostensibly to visit the ailing jockey. He gave no 
evidence of surprise or opposition when Woolf repeated that 
he was retiring from racing. 

"But what are you going to do, George ?" he asked. "You're 
not going to cut away from horses altogether, are you?" 

Woolf looked shocked. "Oh, no/' he said. "I've thought 
about it. When I feel better, say, in a couple of months, I'll set 
up as a trainer, try to pick up a few horses." 

"But what are you going to do in the meantime?" White- 
hill snapped his fingers. "Say, why don't you come along with 
me, give me a lift with my horses ? There's no money in it but 
it'll give you something to do until you're ready to start train- 
ing horses." 



The Iceman digested the offer for a moment, then extended 
his hand. "I'm your man, Whitey," he said. 

What followed then was one of the most amazing episodes 
in sports. Woolf had been one of the most successful jockeys 
in racing. A much sought after free-lance rider, he had been 
paid a thousand dollar a month retaining fee by several 
stables just for first call on his services. In addition he had 
received ten per cent of the winnings of his horses and ex- 

Now he stepped down to the humble and obscure role of 
exercise boy, of stable helper, of "hot walker." 

He rode Whitehill's horses in morning workouts. He 
"schooled" young horses and mature horses who needed re- 
fresher courses at the starting gate. He walked horses heated 
from a race or workout. He carried water and oats. 

His companions in his chores were stable hands, youngsters 
aspiring to become jockeys or oldsters whose careers were 
long past. They were mystified at his new role, but he vol- 
unteered no information and they asked no questions. 

The turf followers, the fans, were only slightly puzzled at 
his absence from racing. The Iceman, a man of great inde- 
pendence, had often laid off for weeks at a time. Only three 
or four persons, in addition to his wife, his doctor, and White- 
hill, knew of his illness. 

It was typical of the man that he never shirked his job, 
never complained of the humbleness of his tasks, never be- 
rated the fate which he felt had ended his riding career in the 
years of his prime. 

He adhered rigidly to the diet prescribed by his physician 
and prepared by his wife. He had a particular fancy for one 
of the items of his diet stewed tomatoes. "He could eat 



stewed tomatoes like some people do candy," Genevieve said. 
"If I would give it to him, he would eat it morning, noon, 
and night." 

He became one of the many thousands who bless the dis- 
covery of insulin, but Genevieve continued to administer it 
each morning. He preferred it that way. 

Woolf never spoke of riding in competition. Never recalled 
in words his exploits of the past. Never voiced regret at the 
ending of his career. Whitehill, who understood him like a 
son, sensed that the constant silence was indicative of a deep 
pain, but for a while he was content to let matters continue 
as they were. 

The new year came, 1942, and the racing season opened at 
Santa Anita. Whitehill horses were entered, but none was rid- 
den by The Iceman. The jockey received numerous offers from 
other owners but he turned them all down, making no ex- 
planation. Genevieve and Whitehill noted with hope that 
Woolf had made no public announcement of retiring. 

The Iceman worked at his menial tasks through January, 
through February, through March. Early in April Whitehill 
said to Mrs. Woolf, "I've been hoping that George would 
come out of it, would want to start riding. I think it's time 
we gave him a little push. I've got an idea." 

He took a racing newspaper out of his back pocket, un- 
folded it and showed her the name of a horse, circled in pencil. 
"Remember Challedon?" he asked. "That's the horse I think 
we'll saddle up for Georgie." 

"Sure," she said. "George won the Pimlico special on Chal- 
ledon in 1940." 

"Yeah," Whitehill said, "and the horse hasn't won a sweep- 
stakes since. They'll love to get Georgie for him," 



The next day the trainer telephoned Havre de Grace race 
track in Maryland and spoke at length with a fellow trainer, 
an old friend. He went then to the stable and found The Ice- 
man crouched by a horse, attending to a bruised fetlock. 

Whitehill went directly to the issue. "George," he said, "I 
just talked with Havre de Grace. The Brann stable is crazy to 
have you ride Challedon again on the twenty-fifth." 

The jockey drew himself erect. His face had gone white. "I 
can't, Whitey. I've got diabetes. I can't ride." 

The trainer said, "I told them that . . ." 

"You what?" 

"Yeah, I told them you had diabetes and you felt you 
couldn't ride." He grinned. "Know what they said ? 'We'd 
rather have The Iceman with diabetes than any other jockey 
without it. Just tell him to be here. We've got to have 
him. 9 " 

The trainer said, "Think it over, George. Think it dl over." 
He turned on his heel and walked away. 

Whitehill was prepared to follow up his opening stroke 
with argument and even the deliverance of an edict backed 
by the authority which he knew invested his relationship 
with the younger man. Now, he felt, was the psychological 
moment to apply all pressure to jolt the jockey into move- 
ment. But there was nothing further for Whitehill to do. 

Late that evening the trainer received a telephone call from 
Mrs. Woolf . "Whitey," she said elatedly, "George just called 
Havre de Grace. He's going to ride Challedon. We're pack- 

The trainer put down the telephone receiver. "The little son 
of a gun," he said. "The little son of a gun." 

The Iceman, always taciturn about his emotions, never 


described to anyone, not even to his beloved Genevieve, the 
fight that he fought with himself that night. 

George and Genevieve made the long cross-country trip by 
train in slow stages to conserve his strength. They arrived at 
Havre de Grace on a Monday. The race in which George was 
to ride, the Philadelphia Handicap, was scheduled for Satur- 
day, the last day of the meeting. 

They rented a bungalow near the track and Genevieve 
cooked for him, as at home. He was tired from the trip and 
he slept and rested a great deal. But he also went daily to the 
track to work out with Challedon, owned by William Brann. 

So poorly was Challedon rated by the handicappers that, 
even though Woolf was to ride him, he went to the post with 
the odds sixteen to five against him. Favored were Mioland 
and Cape Cod. 

Genevieve joined her voice with the voices of twenty-five 
thousand screaming fans as the horses surged out of the start- 
ing gate in the feature race of the day. A jumble of horses and 
color cannonballed out of the chute into the backstretch; and 
Cape Cod, ridden by Woolf 's friend Nick Wall, pushed out 
in front. They sped along the back stretch, Cape God widen- 
ing his lead and Mioland in second place. 

Where was Challedon ? Genevieve could not pick him out 
in the pack. The horses came around the far turn, spreading 
out. Now through her glasses she saw Challedon. He was last 
in the field of seven. She f ocussed on the rider. George was re- 
laxed, his hands clenched on the reins. 

The horses neared the homestretch. The positions were un- 
changed. First Cape Cod, ahead by a length, then Mioland 
trailed by four horses closely bunched, and bringing up the 
rear, Challedon. 



They entered the homestretch and the crowd stood as one. 
Cape Cod was tiring and Mioland was coming up fast. Few 
noticed that Challedon was coming faster. Genevieve saw 
George's hands thrust out, loosening the reins. Then he be- 
gan to use the whip. Suddenly Challedon was third and the 
three leaders were running neck and neck. Cape Cod faltered, 
dropped slighdy back; and Challedon was second, inches be- 
hind the leader but edging up. They flashed across the finish 
line and no human eye could name the winner. 

The loud speakers blared that the announcement of the out- 
come would have to await the printing and examination of 
the automatic photo of the finish. And then it came over the 
amplifiers. "The winner of the Philadelphia Handicap is 
Challedon . . ." 

Genevieve kissed her husband in the winner's circle, then 
kissed him again for the benefit of the photographers. He 
gave her a sly grin and whispered in her ear, "111 put it up to 
you, Genevieve. Should I go back to work for Whitey or con- 
tinue riding?" 

He continued riding, of course. And such riding America 
had rarely seen. From Havre de Grace he went to nearby 
Bowie and rode Cape Cod to victory in the Bowie Handicap. 
He mounted the great Whirlaway at Boston's Suffolk 
Downs and drove to victory and a prize of $43,850 in the 
Massachusetts Handicap, breaking the world record for total 
winnings which had been held by Seabiscuit. He also rode 
"Mr. Longtail" to victory in the Brooklyn Handicap, the Nar- 
ragansett Special, the Jockey Gold Cup, the Washington 
Handicap and the Pimlico Special. 

Rationing his strength, he selected only the important races, 
the sweepstakes in the main, to ride in. Jockeys like Arcaro, 


Atkinson or Johnny Longden rode close to a thousand races 
a year. Woolf rode only 263 times in 1942, but his horses came 
in first 56 times and on 142 occasions 54 per cent they 
finished in the money: first, second or third. But this was only 
part of his achievement. 

He won a total of 23 sweepstakes, leading all the jockeys in 
this category. Moreover, his total of sweepstakes prizes was 
$341,680, the highest in racing. Arcaro was second on both 

But the most brilliant facet of Woolf 's riding that year was 
this: Despite the facts that he didn't start riding until the 
year was one-fourth gone and that he rode far fewer times 
than any other front-rank jockey, he led all jockeys in total 
winnings with $426,425. 

The Iceman was acclaimed for his achievement, but few 
knew under what handicap it was done. 

It is comparatively easy for a sufferer from diabetes who 
lives a sedentary life to administer to himself and prevent 
distressing symptoms. It is much more difficult for an athlete, 
a jockey. 

Insulin reduces the sugar in the diabetic's body. The furious 
energy which the athlete-diabetic pours into competition does 
the same thing. Thus the athlete must strive to achieve a deli- 
cate balance of insulin and energy expenditure and do this 
on a basis of expectation. But it is almost impossible to foresee 
precisely, when he takes his insulin in the morning, the 
amount of energy he will expend during the day. 

Woolf 's activity fluctuated from peaks to plateaus to valleys. 
He might ride, travel, exercise a horse, or rest. 

He went by a simple rule of thumb: a certain dose for days 
on which he expected to ride, and double that on days when 



he planned to be idle. But the body reacts differently from 
day to day and, in addition, he could not predict accurately 
how active he would be. 

In consequence he struggled some days, when his insulin 
intake proved insufficient, against the distressing diabetic 
symptoms. Other days he fought the equally painful symp- 
toms of insulin shock, or reaction, when his medication 
proved to be overample. 

Ed Christmas, a trainer and an old friend of The Iceman, 
said, "People didn't know how sick he was. Sometimes we'd 
drive out to the track in the early morning for a workout and 
he'd sit there with his head in his hands. I'd say, 'George, you 
all right ?' He'd answer, 'Yeah, I'm all right. Don't worry.' His 
wife would .bring him the insulin and he'd lie down for a 
while and sleep. Then in the afternoon he'd go out and ride 
like a demon." 

Cassidy, the starter of the famous match race at Pimlico, 
said, "Often I saw Georgie Woolf on the verge of diabetic 

One of Woolf 's worst attacks of insulin reaction came on 
the train as he was returning home from his successful 1942 
campaign. It developed during the night, and Genevieve 
awoke to find him vomiting, sweating heavily, and trembling. 
She knew the antidote sugar for the insulin to work on. She 
raced through the train, found a porter, and obtained several 
candy bars. Woolf munched them quickly and the symptoms 

The diabetes, however, had one beneficial result. Woolf 
was what is known as a "heavy jockey." Despite careful diet- 
ing and many hours spent in steam baths he found it almost 
impossible to reduce his weight below 115 pounds. Now, how- 



ever, without steam baths or reducing diet his weight re- 
mained constant at 113 pounds. 

He rode 190 times in 1943 and carried off prizes totaling 
271,924, but the next year he shot out again ahead of all the 
other riders with aggregate prizes of $461,965. It was the best 
year he ever had. 

He felt less well in 1945 and rode only 87 times. Still he won 
$209,000 with his horses. "Next year we'll do much better," 
he vowed. He had no intention of retiring. To one turf writer 
he confided that he intended to ride until he was fifty. 

The Woolf s spent the Christmas season at home. Then, on 
January 3, 1946, George drove with Genevieve to Santa Anita 
to ride "as a favor to a friend." 

It was a cheap race, a $3500 claiming race, and his horse, 
Please Me, was of small renown. But in this race Please Me 
made the headlines he caused the death of The Iceman. 

Running behind the field, fighting the bit, Please Me stum- 
bled and flung his rider over his head and against the rail. 
Genevieve beat the track ambulance to the jockey. He was 
unconscious, with deep injuries in his head and face. He was 
removed to St. Luke's hospital and died the next morning, 
never regaining consciousness. Genevieve and Whitehill kept 
a vigil at his bedside until the end. 

The people of racing mourned him deeply and at various 
tracks across the land ceremonies honoring his memory were 
held on January 7, the day of his funeral. 

The Community Church in Arcadia could well have been 
hidden from sight by the mountain of floral tributes had not 
Mrs. Woolf diverted hundreds of these to hospitals and other 



Later the turf writers started a movement to erect a bronze 
statue of The Iceman at Santa Anita and commissioned Hugh- 
lette Tex Wheeler, the cowboy sculptor, to execute the bronze. 
Then the writers asked for contributions. A number of owners 
offered each to defray the entire costs, but the writers ruled 
that no contribution could be larger than one dollar. They 
wanted the entire racing world to take part. 

Then from every city and social level in America, from 
Europe, from Australia and from South America poured a 
stream of dollars, more than sufficient to pay all the costs. 
Months after the moving ceremony of the statue's unveiling 
and this wasn't until 1949 the dollar bills were still arriving. 

Lifesize, lifelike, in boots and silks, saddle draped over his 
left arm, The Iceman stands there now in the paddock garden, 
within sight and sound of the horses he loved. 

He gazes musingly off across the banks of flowers at the 
statue of a horse Seabiscuit, who followed him in death. 

It is fitting that they stand there together, the little man 
and the little horse. They had much in common, greatness of 
achievement when the odds disdained them, rawhide courage 
a pair who gave all they had and just a little more.