05/19/2015 12:56PM

Bravo’s competitive spirit still burns brightly

Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Joe Bravo is one win away from his 5,000th career victory.

Joe Bravo had a busy Preakness week.

On Monday, he rode at Parx Racing; on Friday, he was at Belmont Park; and on Saturday, he finished second on 25-1 shot Cage Fighter in the Grade 2 Dixie and third on Happy My Way in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico.

Back home at Monmouth Park on Sunday, he notched career win No. 4,999. His milestone 5,000th victory could come as early as Wednesday, when he is scheduled to ride for trainer Jason Servis in the ninth race at Belmont.

Bravo spent last week driving up and down the East Coast because his desire to win is as strong now as when he started out in 1988. It’s what makes him tick.

“If there has been one downfall in my career that’s maybe held me back a little, it’s that I want to win so bad,” said Bravo, 43. “And if I don’t win, I can get grumpy after a race. I’m just that competitive.”

Winning 5,000 races is not a longevity award. Sure, you have to ride a long time to reach it, but you’d better keep winning in bunches. Bravo’s career win average is more than 18 percent.

Only 30 jockeys have ridden 5,000 North American winners. Oddly, Bravo is on the verge of becoming the third to do so this year. Hall of Famers Gary Stevens and Alex Solis joined the club over the winter.

“I am really thankful to everyone who has helped me along the way,” Bravo said. “You can’t be successful in this job by yourself. You can’t do it alone.”

Riding racehorses is a streaky business. Sometimes your services are in demand, and other times you have to fight for mounts.

“It may sound funny, but I would like to especially thank everyone who has helped me out at points in my career when I wasn’t doing good – those guys who put me on a winner when I needed it,” Bravo said. “When you’re doing good, everyone wants you, but when you’re not, sometimes the opposite is true, even if you’re riding like you always have.”

Bravo’s name is synonymous with Monmouth Park, where he won 13 riding titles between 1991 and 2007. Although Monmouth races only during the summer, he has almost 2,000 wins there. The native of Long Branch, N.J., has another 1,200 wins in his home state at the Meadowlands, Atlantic City, and Garden State.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Bravo has more than 600 wins at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga and almost 700 wins at the southern Florida tracks of Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream Park West, formerly Calder.

Bravo is proud of the caliber of races he has won. With more than $149 million in purse earnings, he ranks 27th on the career money list.

Bravo has won the biggest races at Monmouth, the Haskell Invitational on Lion Heart (2004) and the United Nations with Big Blue Kitten (2013) and Turbo Compressor (2012).

He has at least one Grade 1 win a year since 2011. Last year, he won the Arkansas Derby on Danza for Todd Pletcher and the Spinaway on Condo Commando for Rudy Rodriguez.

Bravo, a natural lightweight at 112 pounds, had a huge day at Belmont Park on Kentucky Derby Day, when a number of the New York riders were at Churchill Downs. He won five races, including all three stakes. Christophe Clement gave him the mount on his best horse, Tonalist, in the Westchester. He also won two stakes for Chad Brown, the Fort Marcy on Big Blue Kitten and the Sheepshead Bay on Rosalind.

While 5,000 wins is a tremendous accomplishment, don’t expect Bravo to spend very long thinking about it. His eyes are set on wins down the road.

“I feel great right now,” Bravo said. “As long as my body allows me to keep riding, I have no intention of retiring. It was so cool to see Kerwin Clark win the Kentucky Oaks and Ashland on Lovely Maria. He’s way older than me and still getting the job done.”