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.
B P Rocket, Frank Fletcher’s lightly raced homebred, moved closer to a possible start in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Jan. 25 with a 5-furlong workout over a good track Sunday morning at Oaklawn.
Under Alex Canchari, Oaklawn’s seventh-leading rider last year, B P Rocket went in 1:01.40, which ranked fourth among 67 times recorded at the distance. B P Rocket breezed in company with stablemate Brush Country, who also went in 1:01.40.
A chestnut son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, B P Rocket finished sixth in his Oct. 13 career debut at Keeneland before breaking his maiden at a mile in his last start, Nov. 9 at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Will VanMeter said the break was probably the biggest difference in the two races.
“His chink in his armor when he first came up was the gate,” VanMeter said. “He’s one of those horses, the first time you do something with him, he’s like, ‘Whoa!’ And then the second time you do it with him, he has a kind of a sharp learning curve. Second time you do something with him, he really comes on.”
B P Rocket is the first foal out of Rocket Maker, who began her career with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott after Fletcher purchased the daughter of Empire Maker for $485,000 at the 2012 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s selected sale of 2-year-olds in training.
Rocket Maker finished sixth in two maiden special weights races in 2013 at Oaklawn for trainer Tom Howard of Hot Springs before winning two starts later that year.
Howard’s widow, Kathy, who is Fletcher’s racing manager, said Rocket Maker is in foal to Quality Road and is to be bred this year to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Curlin won Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby in 2007. American Pharoah swept both races in 2015 en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Nominations to the 1-mile Smarty Jones close Thursday. Post positions will be drawn Jan. 18. The Smarty Jones is Oaklawn’s first of four major Kentucky Derby prep races.
Oaklawn had 1,244 horses on the grounds Tuesday morning. … The track was rated fast for workouts Tuesday morning, although clockers were unable to see most early works because of heavy fog. Multiple stakes winner Amy’s Challenge sizzled in a half-mile work near the end of training hours, covering the distance in :46 under regular rider Jareth Loveberry. Amy’s Challenge went her last eighth in :11.20 and galloped out 5 furlongs in :59.20. Trainer Mac Robertson said he’s pointing Amy’s Challenge for the $100,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Jan. 26 at Oaklawn. … In addition to Channing Hill, agent Scott Hare said he will also represent C.J. McMahon at the 2019 meeting. McMahon was Oaklawn’s 10th-leading jockey last year. … Stewart Elliott, the regular rider of champion Smarty Jones, is on the grounds, his agent, Jay Fedor, said Tuesday morning. Elliott will be riding regularly at Oaklawn for the first time since 2007 this year. In 2004, Elliott guided Smarty Jones to victories in Oaklawn’s Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby, then the first two legs of the Triple Crown. … Newcomer Orlando Mojica, one of two riders trainer Robertino Diodoro said he plans to use extensively at this year’s meeting, was on the grounds during training hours over the weekend.