People On The Move - Joe Bravo
COMING HOME NEVER GETS OLD FOR JOCKEY “JERSEY JOE”
Monmouth Park’s opening weekend for the 2017 season was more than a welcome sight for the loyal fans and family members who are keeping the historical racetrack in business – it was also a homecoming for one of the most accomplished jockeys in the venue’s history who is proud to call the Jersey Shore his home.
“Jersey Joe” Bravo, who has amassed more wins at Monmouth Park than any other jockey, was on hand to kick-off another summer of racing in Oceanport. That a jockey who has more than 5,000 career wins, and has raced in eastern Asia, the Middle-East, and South America makes it a priority to be at Monmouth Park shows how he has stayed true to his roots and admiration for the Jersey Shore.
“Monmouth is one of the most beautiful tracks in the country,” Bravo says on a weekday in April while he’s getting ready to race in stakes leading up to the Kentucky Derby. “I get homesick when I’m not at my home in Eatontown for a lot of the winter months, and this year I was away for a lot longer than I normally am. But I always love coming back home.”
Bravo was born at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, but moved away shortly after and grew up in Texas and Florida. A third-generation jockey, he learned to race from this father and grandfather, and returned to New Jersey once he was of legal racing age. But that same “warm feeling” of coming home he experienced as teenager setting foot in Monmouth Park has never faded.
Now 44 years old, Bravo has experienced somewhat of a revelation in his racing career, posting career-bests in number of graded stakes (races of high-caliber) wins in the last couple of seasons. He attributes his success later in his career to the trainers he’s met along the way, and those who believed in him when he wasn’t winning races of the same caliber at a younger age.
“I’ve always kept a positive attitude and I’m thankful for the people who supported me, and continue to,” he says. “Early on when I would go through a string without winning any races, some trainers would tell me, ‘Joe, don’t change a thing.’ That helped me keep my confidence. And I haven’t really ever had to worry about putting on any weight and getting too heavy, so I’m lucky. If I have a bad day and want to eat, I can enjoy a steak dinner without having to worry about weighing my horse down.”
But that’s not to say Bravo wasn’t a successful jockey out of the gate. Although he has enjoyed some higher-profile success around the country more recently, he quickly became a household name in New Jersey racing circles as a young rider. He doesn’t quite recall the first time he was given the moniker “Jersey Joe,” but is proud that the name has stuck and brings attention to the corner of the world he enjoys more than any other.
“The name has always been one of those things. I like it. I love the Jersey Shore,” he says. “I like being able to shop and eat in Red Bank, and see what Long Branch has done with Pier Village and West End. If I retire and hit the lotto for 100 million, I’d live right here. I always tell people that there are only two places you want to be in the summer: the Jersey Shore or the Hamptons – and the Hamptons don’t have a racetrack.”
Despite that statement, retirement isn’t on Bravo’s radar at the moment. Mindful that he has to manage his body and 5’2’’ frame differently now than he has in the past, he’ll limit the number of races he runs to allow him to stay in the saddle as long as he can.
“I don’t race 10 times a day anymore. I want to cherish it and keep going as long as I can,” he says. “Some jockeys are 10 or more years older than me, so I know I can do it a long time. But, I don’t want to work hard at it. This business, I love not knowing who I’m going to meet next, a great trainer, a great owner, or a great horse. That never gets old. But I don’t want to turn it into a job. When that happens, and I don’t enjoy it anymore, that’ll be the day I stop.”
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