09/15/2005 11:00PM

A resurgent Bravo back on Comacina for stakes


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Joe Bravo hardly missed a beat, picking right up where he left off.

Bravo returned Sept. 4 after missing almost seven weeks with a broken collarbone and posted 11 wins in his first 23 starts back at Monmouth Park.

Bravo reunites with Comacina on Sunday in the $60,000 Blue Sparkler Stakes for fillies and mares at six furlongs.

Comacina, trained by Patrick Biancone, was Bravo's last winning mount before the July 21 spill that sent him to the sidelines.

"She's a very nice filly," Bravo said. "She had a great turn of foot that day. She was in a morning gallop that afternoon and did it well within herself."

Following that allowance victory, Comacina was a fading seventh in a Saratoga allowance race.

"I feel confident riding for that man because I know he has confidence in me," Bravo said of Biancone. "It makes you ride a better race."

Park Avenue Ball in Pegasus work

Park Avenue Ball worked six furlongs in 1:15.40 Friday in his first drill since finishing third in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

"This puts him in the possible category for the Pegasus," said trainer Jim Ryerson. "He finished it real good."

The Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds is the opening night feature on Sept. 30 at The Meadowlands.

Park Avenue Ball had been sidelined by an illness that swept through Ryerson's barn. The sickness cost him a shot at the Pennsylvania Derby on Labor Day at Philadelphia Park.

Meadowlands BC for Zoffinger

Zoffinger will likely make his next start in Grade 2 Meadowlands Breeders Cup Stakes on Oct. 7, according to trainer John Forbes.

Zoffinger ran the race of his life last time out, rallying for second in Monmouth's Grade 3 Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at 65-1.

The final outcome of that race remains in dispute, as Dennis Drazin, Zoffinger's owner, filed an appeal after West Virginia, the winner, drifted into Zoffinger's path in the stretch.

"He's a slow-developing horse, and Dennis has been willing to be patient," Forbes said of the 5-year-old Zoffinger. "In the spring, our logical goal was the Iselin. We could grind him up in allowance races or try and have him run the best race of his life in the Iselin."

The plan almost paid off, as Zoffinger, a massive chestnut, rallied from 14 lengths off the pace to miss by only one length.

"He still has a lot to do to prove he can go to the next level," Forbes said. "He's older, and the last race might not take a much out of him as, say, a 3-year-old. He's still kind of a big gangly kid who is just now starting to get the idea."

Vega perseveres at comeback

Tony Vega took Monmouth Park by storm in 1983, winning a record 134 races as an apprentice rider.

That mark stood only one year, until Chris Antley came along and captured 171 the following season.

The Antley record still stands. And Vega is still here, trying to launch a comeback.

Back in the day, Vega had a reputation as a rider with good hands on a horse and quick fists in the jockeys' room. Now 44, Vega has mellowed. Life experience has a way of making that happen.

Vega drifted away from the racetrack when his business dwindled in the mid 1990's. He held a number of jobs, including construction work, and his family has been touched by tragedy with his wife and mother both battling cancer.

"I'm trying to come back, but what's been going on is overwhelming," Vega said. "God has been good. He has given me enough strength so I haven't panicked."

Vega's mother, Carmen Maria, was one of the inspirations for the comeback.

"My mother told me to just go out and ride," Vega said. "I would like to win, but it's difficult. I've had a lot of hard years. I want her to see me do good again."

The wins have been scarce. Vega had 12 mounts at the meet with a record of 1-2-1.

"I'm here," Vega said. "I'm back. I've come full circle. "I missed it. I watched these riders and I said 'Man, I can still do that.'

"I've got such a positive feeling, I know I can make this work. I'm in this to win this."