Jockey Joe Bravo was all smiles after winning the Arkansas Derby on April 12 at Oaklawn Park to punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby. (Coady Photography)
Vince Mathews: You have now officially qualified for the Kentucky Derby with Danza, describe what your emotions are like leading up to the first Saturday in May?
Joe Bravo: Right now it is all about the anticipation. Everything about this horse has been such a nice surprise. Whenever you ride a horse for Todd Pletcher and his team, you always have a little bit of extra confidence; and when I started reading more into Danza, I started falling in love with the horse prior to the Arkansas Derby. Now that we've seen what he can do, it’s all about the anticipation of seeing if he can do more in Louisville.
Mathews: Is there anything that racing fans maybe don't know, or should know, about Danza?
Bravo: Honestly, the Arkansas Derby was a pretty surreal race for me. Here I was, going down the backside at Oaklawn Park, riding my race and evaluating the horses that were around me. And then all of the sudden it hit me, and I said to myself ‘This is the Arkansas Derby, a million-dollar race, and I have all of these horses beat!’ I knew I had the race won as we were going down the backstretch.
DANZA COASTED TO VICTORY IN THE ARKANSAS DERBY
Mathews: Do you have any pre-race superstitions? Will you do anything special to get yourself ready on Derby day?
Bravo: No, not really. It's all about keeping an open mind and preparing for the race accordingly. There will be 19 other horses in the starting gate, and you have to prepare for each and every one of them, because they are not there to fill the race, they are in it to win it … just like we are. I try to do as much homework as I possibly can.
Mathews: You have already ridden in a couple of Kentucky Derbys, so you've experienced the excitement of the day. Describe what you expect to feel as you are being led to the track and the band starts to play “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Bravo: I'm a Jersey boy. The first time I rode in the Derby I said to myself ‘what is this Kentucky home song going to do to me?’ Then it hits you - you look around and there’s 150,000 people looking directly at you. It overcomes you with emotions, and there really is no way to describe it through words. You have to experience it.
Mathews: You came very close to having your third Kentucky Derby mount in the 2013 edition of the race, but your riding assignment, Black Onyx, was scratched the day before the race. What does that mean in terms of you getting back to Louisville this year?
Bravo: You cannot explain how disappointing it is to get to the Derby, go through all of the festivities and all of your preparations, only to have your opportunity vanish the day before the race. But that is the nature of this game, and my motto is always to ‘roll with it.’ I rolled with it, and we're right back in the Derby in 2014 with a big-time contender.
BRAVO CELEBRATES HIS ARKANSAS DERBY WIN
Mathews: Have you had a chance to talk to Tony Danza about your Kentucky Derby mount?
Bravo: Actually the day after the Arkansas Derby, Tony Danza started following me on Twitter (Joe Bravo is @bravoace on Twitter) and he wished me good luck in the Kentucky Derby, which was really cool. To tell you the truth, I hadn't put two and two together and realized the horse was named after Tony Danza until that point!
Mathews: Mint Juleps: yay or nay?
Bravo: Nay - those things don’t taste very good. Be assured however, if Danza wins the Derby I will definitely be celebrating!
Mathews: How do you think the other jockeys in the room would describe your personality?
Bravo: I try to remain uplifting and high-spirited. The highs in this game are extremely high, but the lows are extremely low as well, and I understand that. You have to enjoy and appreciate the good times when you have them.
BRAVO (wearing blanket of flowers) APPRECIATING THE GOOD TIMES
Mathews: If you weren't a jockey, what would you like to be? What would be your profession?
Bravo: I love the game so much; I don't even want to think about it. It is such a part of me. I'd probably be washing cars or working at McDonald’s or something, but I don't even want to imagine not being involved with Thoroughbred racing.
Mathews: If you could tell a potential new fan of horse racing one thing, what would it be?
Bravo: Get used to losing! The best trainers and the best jockeys in their best years still only win about 20% of their races - meaning that the best connections around are losing about 80% of the time! Learn to enjoy and cherish the best times, and always realize that when times are bad, you will live to see another day.
2014 ARKANSAS DERBY