ELMONT, NY — Long Branch, New Jersey's Joe Bravo has been voted the recipient of the Mike Venezia Memorial Award that is presented to jockeys who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship — on and off the track.
Bravo, who is known to his legion of fans as “Jersey Joe,” will receive the award at ceremonies after the third race at Belmont Park on Memorial Day, May 28. The recipient is selected by a vote of racing fans who cast their ballots via the internet under the aegis of the New York Racing Association. The electronic ballot box closed May 16.
Mike Venezia, for whom the award is named, died as a result of injuries he sustained during a racing accident in 1988. The Venezia Award was first offered in 1989 to honor the Brooklyn-born veteran who won over 2,300 races during a 25-year career.
Bravo, Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano, Manny Franco and the Ortiz brothers, Irad, Jr. and Jose, were the 2018 nominees.
When informed of his honor, the third generation professional jockey responded, "Honestly, it's such an honor to be able to receive this award. I'm shocked it wasn't a four person dead-heat, because each of the guys I was nominated with are all great and deserving to win as well. When you look at the some of the past winners of this award, including Hall of Famers like Angel Cordero, Jr, Ramon Dominguez and Edgar Prado; it's truly an honor."
Bravo, 46, rode his first winner at old Calder Race Course in Florida in March 1988. Since then, he has crossed the finish line first more than 5,200 times and has amassed over $170 million in purse earnings.
Last year, his Grade 1 wins came with Bigger Picture in Monmouth Park's United Nations and astride Zipessa in Keeneland's First Lady. During the year, his mounts earned over $5.4 million in purses.
Venezia himself was honored with the award posthumously in 1989. Other Hall of Fame jockeys who have their names on the Venezia trophy include John Velazquez (2014) and Ramon Dominguez (2013).
Bravo, who wears an easy grin — except when he is riding a race horse — is capable of bursting someone's balloon on the spot.
Example: After winning a stake race at Monmouth Park a few years back, a very serious racetrack television announcer, speaking in stentorian tones, asked the winning rider about getting between another horse and the inner rail where it appeared there was very little room.
Bravo grinned and replied, “It was easy. He's a very skinny horse. If he was a fat horse, I would never have been able to get through.”
Exit jockey from the winners' circle — laughing all the way back to the jock's room.
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