In a winner’s circle ceremony befitting the historical significance of the honor, jockey Joe Bravo received the trophy commemorating his selection by a vote of jockeys nationwide as the winner of the 73rd George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award on Sunday at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.
Long a dominant force in his native New Jersey at Meadowlands and Monmouth Park and now a full-time rider in Southern California, “Jersey Joe” was flanked by his father, Joe Bravo, Sr., members of the Santa Anita rider colony and past winners of the award: Donald Pierce (1967), Laffit Pincay, Jr. (1970), Frank Olivares (1977), Mike Smith (2000) and John Velazquez (2009).
“I’m just soaking this all in,” Bravo told TVG’s Kurt Hoover. “Really, as you grow up as a kid watching guys like this you idolize, and then you come up and you get an award voted on by them. … I’ve been riding a long time and they were able to stomach me. I mean, this isn’t even about me, this award (the way) I look at it, it’s a family.
“No matter what racetrack you go into, we are all related. I mean you know how hard it as a young rider, to get in to be a jock? I mean, it’s really a devotion to make it…Then, to be able to do it day in and day out. Most importantly, it’s walking out of the racetrack every day. I mean, you get a lot of winners and losers in between, but you got to be thankful that you are just able to walk away. … But you have to enjoy every moment while you’re out here doing it.
“I can’t thank Santa Anita enough, to be able to get my family here. You know how hard it is to get my father out of Wellington (Florida)? I love it, Santa Anita pulled this all together.”
Named in honor of the legendary Hall of Fame jockey, the Woolf Award has been presented annually by Santa Anita to riders whose careers have earned esteem for the sport of Thoroughbred racing and for the individual riders themselves. One of the most highly coveted awards in all of American racing, the inaugural Woolf Award, which was won in 1950 by Gordon Glisson, can only be won once.
“This tops everything for Joe, in my opinion,” said Joe Bravo, Sr., himself a former jockey. “All the wins, the riding titles, the big races, to win this award, here at Santa Anita…What everyone here has done for Joey, has changed his career, for the best. I can see it in his demeanor, in his riding. I think this is his new home.”