05/10/2006 11:00PM

Eclipse winners join Bravo in race

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Joe Bravo will face stiff competition from two Eclipse Award winners in his bid for a 12th riding title at Monmouth Park.

Jorge Chavez, the Eclipse Award-winning jockey in 1999, and Eddie Castro, the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice in 2003, will challenge Monmouth's perennial kingpin when the meet opens Saturday.

Bravo will try to shake the competition and the injury bug that has dogged him in recent seasons. He missed half of the 2001 Monmouth season with a broken leg and most of 2002 with a broken wrist. In 2003, he chipped a vertebra on opening night of the Meadowlands meet and was sidelined for two months. Bravo, 34, won the 2005 Monmouth title despite missing seven weeks with a broken collarbone.

The new year brought more misery - two fractured vertebrae in his back after a spill on opening day at Gulfstream Park. Bravo said he feared the latest injury was his last one on the racetrack.

"Doctors told me I might be out a year, that it would involve surgery," Bravo said. "I thought, 'I'm not coming back from this one. I'm going to have to retire.' "

Bravo got a second opinion, one that recommended no surgery but a back brace for three to four months. That plan has him back riding, and winning.

"I wouldn't have known what to do if this was taken away from me," Bravo said. "I hope to one day walk away from the game, not have it taken away from me."

As for the meet ahead, Bravo said he feels "it's like every year. You've got great riders coming here to Monmouth Park."

In Chavez and Castro, Bravo faces two worthy adversaries.

Chavez returns to the track that helped launch his career. He rode here in 1989, winning 103 races to finish second to Julie Krone in the standings. Chavez used that season as the springboard to New York, where he gained the national prominence that reached a pinnacle with a Kentucky Derby victory on Monarchos in 2001.

Chavez has also battled injuries since the Derby victory, including a broken collarbone on closing day at Calder.

Rather than pick up the pieces in New York, Chavez, 44, said he is looking to jumpstart his career on the Jersey Shore.

"I was out four months and I lost some clients," Chavez said. "I decided to come here because I didn't want to come back and struggle in New York.

"I just want to be comfortable," he said. "I don't want to have to battle for the best horses. I just want to win races and be happy."

Chavez said he has fond memories of his one year in New Jersey.

"I remember winning a lot of races," Chavez said. "I have good memories. I was winning three, four, or five a day. After that, I went to New York and the rest was history."

Castro, 21, is a young up-and-comer who shifted his tack north from Florida.

"It's a great opportunity and a good next step," Castro said. "I've been fortunate enough to accomplish a lot in Florida and I hope to continue that here and in the future."

Castro was the leading rider last year at Calder with 218 wins, including a one-day record of nine on June 4. The 218 wins broke Walter Guerra's mark of 193 set in 1979.

Career Oriented returns in Red Cross

The $60,000 Red Cross Stakes for fillies and mares tops the opening-day card. It also launches the comeback of Career Oriented, a 4-year-old filly who won 4 of 5 Monmouth starts last summer, including the Miss Woodford.

Career Oriented closed the campaign by rallying to finish third in the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland.

2006 stakes schedule

DATEEVENTCONDITIONSDISTANCEPURSE
Sat.,June 24Salvator Mile (G3)3YO & Up1 mile$150,000
Sat.,July 1Jersey Shore B.C. (G3)3YO6 furlongs150,000
Fri.,July 4Boiling Springs (G3)3YO F1 1/16 miles (T)150,000
Sat.,July 8United Nations (G1)3YO & Up1 3/8 miles (T)750,000
Sat.,July 15Long Branch B.C. (G3)3YO1 1/16 miles150,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Haskell Invitational (G1)3YO1 1/8 miles1,000,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Matchmaker Stakes (G3)F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/8 miles (T)150,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Oceanport Stakes (G3)3YO & Up1 1/16 miles (T)150,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Jersey Derby3YO1 1/16 miles (T)100,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Ladys Secret StakesF&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 miles100,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Regret StakesF&M, 3YO & Up6 furlongs100,000
Sun.,Aug. 6Teddy Drone Stakes3YO & Up6 furlongs100,000
Sun.,Aug. 13Monmouth B.C. Oaks (G3)3YO F1 1/16 miles200,000
Sat.,Aug. 19Phillip H. Iselin B.C. (G3)3YO & Up1 1/8 miles250,000
Sat.,Aug. 26Eatontown (G3)F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 miles (T)150,000
Sun.,Aug. 27Molly Pitcher B.C. (G2)F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 miles300,000
Sat.,Sept. 2Red Bank (G3)3YO & Up1 mile (T)150,000
Sun.,Sept. 3Sorority2YO F6 furlongs100,000
Mon.,Sept. 4Sapling (G3)2YO6 furlongs150,000
Sat.,Sept. 23Monmouth Park Natc Futurity2YO6 furlongs200,000
Sat.,Sept. 23Monmouth Park Natc Futurity2YO F furlongs00,000