‘Jersey Joe’ Bravo Finds Success In California After Riding Crop Flap

Legendary Monmouth Park jockey says he's 'revived' his career out west
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In 2015, jockey “Jersey Joe” Bravo made a triumphant return to Monmouth Park after a year spent focused on New York tracks.

“There’s no place like Monmouth,” said Bravo, who took his first riding title at the Oceanport track in 1991 before adding a dozen more to that point. “It’s always good to come home, and that’s what Monmouth is to me.”

But after a strong 2021 season at California’s Santa Anita Park, Bravo seems tempted to make the latest transition a permanent one. The 50-year-old has made himself a leading contender for the 73rd George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award at Santa Anita, and has enjoyed the ride.

“For right now, here,” Bravo told The Paulick Report of California being his preferred home base for racing. “I’m here and we’re seeing how everything plays out. Like I say, I can’t tell you what tomorrow’s going to bring. But it’s a good living. It’s California.”

Whip rule led to relocation

Bravo shook up the thoroughbred horse racing world when he announced last spring that he would abandon Monmouth Park for Santa Anita. The veteran jockey objected to the New Jersey Racing Commission imposing the most stringent regulations in the U.S. on the use of a riding crop on racehorses.

Last month, Bravo reiterated those same objections.

“Jersey will always be home — I’m blessed to be called Jersey Joe,” Bravo told The Paulick Report. “I love it there. There’s no better place to live in the summertime than the Jersey Shore and I love Monmouth Park. But with the change in conditions, it makes it tough. [Looking ahead], I’m just hoping that all states follow the same guidelines for safety, medication and riding crop rules.

“It’s almost like watching football and every time you go to a different state, they have different rules. Why should horse racing be any different? I think we should all abide by the same rules, state by state.”

Late last summer, Bravo told The Thoroughbred Daily News that, in retrospect, the shift to Santa Anita was a wakeup call for him.

“The last couple of years, I was enjoying the good life,” Bravo said. “The Jersey Shore is really nice, and I wasn’t really striving that hard for anything. With this shake-up, it’s revitalized me. I’m working hard and it’s been kind of fun with the way things have been shaken up.

“I got into a little rut [in New Jersey] and horse racing had become a job. I had an easy go of it at Monmouth, but coming here has revived my career.”

Monmouth Park also moves on

The Jersey Shore track kicks off its seasonal meet this year on May 7 — Kentucky Derby Day.

The longstanding tradition of “bring your own cooler,” suspended for the 2020 and 2021 meets, is coming back this year. Visitors will be permitted to bring a cooler no larger than 15X25 inches through the picnic admission gate.

Free parking is back, but general admission will be $6, with an end to an additional fee to access the clubhouse area.

The May schedule calls for races on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, while racing peaks in August with both Friday and Monday cards as well. After Labor Day weekend, Saturday cards on Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 close out the 2022 season.

Bravo had been supplanted as the top jockey at Monmouth Park by Paco Lopez before he departed. Lopez has now won eight titles at the Oceanport track, second-most in the venerable site’s history — behind Jersey Joe Bravo.

Photo: Kevin Kuo/USA TODAY

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