Oaklawn Park Press Release

Jockey Joe Bravo is 2018 recipient of the Mike Venezia Memorial Award, the prestigious honor awarded to jockeys who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.

A lot more of the Jersey Shore will be seen this year in Arkansas.

Jockey Joe Bravo, a winner of more than 5,000 races, said Monday morning that he will ride regularly at Oaklawn for the first time during the 2019 meeting that begins Jan. 25.

Known as “Jersey Joe,” Bravo has won a record 13 riding titles at Monmouth Park in his native New Jersey, but he has only had a handful of mounts at Oaklawn during his decorated 31-year career.

Bravo, 47, said several horsemen have encouraged him to ride in Hot Springs, notably prominent owner Alex Lieblong, chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission and a friend of the jockey.

“Why does everybody go to Kentucky Downs?” Bravo said of the rich boutique meet conducted on a European-style grass course. “You put up the money and everybody shows up, right? Looks like you guys are putting it up pretty juicy this year.”

Oaklawn has one of the highest purse structures in the country, with maiden special weights worth $77,000 in 2019 – a record to open a season – and a projected $560,000 daily average for the 57-day season (Jan. 25-May 4).

Bravo is now based at Fair Grounds, where he has an 11-11-8 mark from 59 mounts, including a victory aboard Contributing for trainer Brad Cox in Saturday’s $75,000 Pan Zareta Stakes. Bravo figures to ride for Cox at Oaklawn, but the jockey said he and his agent, Tony King, won’t be picky.

“We’re hoping to be on anybody with a good horse that can shine on the racetrack,” Bravo said. “No real commitments to anybody, but Brad Cox does know how to win races. How you learn in this game, you circle yourself around good people and you’re going to do well. There’s no commitments to anything. Just happy to be at a great racetrack like that and have a little fun this winter.”

Bravo has had 22 career mounts at Oaklawn since 1997. He has four victories, including the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes aboard the Lieblong-owned Junebugred in 2012, $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2014 aboard Danza and the $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) in 2016 aboard Upstart.

Overall, Bravo had 5,331 victories and $176,607,574 in purse earnings in his career through Monday, figures that ranked 24th and 22nd in North American history, respectively, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. He rode his first winner March 17, 1988, at Calder.

Other top mounts for Bravo include Grade 1 winners Big Blue Kitten, Sheer Drama, A.P. Indian, Little Mike, Lion Heart and Watsdachances. Bravo won the $1 million Charles Town Classic (G3) in 2011 at Charles Town aboard Duke of Mischief, co-owned by Lieblong.

Bravo said he plans to be in Hot Springs Jan. 21.

King will also again represent Fernando De La Cruz, Oaklawn’s eighth-leading rider last year. De La Cruz won 22 races at the 2018 meeting, including 14 for Cox, who was Oaklawn’s fourth-leading trainer.