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Monday, April 8
Bravo's back while Sampson calls it quits

At the end of March, the careers of two jockeys passed each other much the way Harlan's Holiday passed Booklet in the Florida Derby -- one moving to the front, the other dropping out.

But in this story, both of the horses won.

This is a story about a guy and a gal who rode at different tracks, but loved the same game. Both are in their early 30's, and have devoted their lives to riding racehorses, even if it meant being on crutches -- or worse -- and sometimes suffering a depression most of us could never imagine.

But this is not a sad story for either. Both have accomplished much, and have much to look forward to.

Joe Bravo, a regular on the New Jersey and New York circuits, was aboard King of Spain at Monmouth Park on July 27, 2001, when a horrible accident left him with both bones in his lower leg broken. It would be a full eight months of grueling pain and rehabilitation before Bravo would ride in a race again.

Clouds of Mist, a 4-year-old filly, who had beaten only one horse in two lifetime starts at the Fair Grounds, will probably be the last winner ever ridden by Kelly Sampson. Sampson, who became a professional jockey in 1995, started by galloping horses for trainer Tom Proctor and rode her first winner at Calder Race Course only one week after her first mount. The end of the 90's were good to her, with lots of winner and even a few stakes triumphs, mostly on the Chicago circuit. But she had also tasted the dissatisfaction of being a sidelined after a training accident in 1994 left her watching instead of riding for four long months.

"It was awful," Kelly said, "and made me want to get well and be a jockey even more."

But before being a regular in the barn area, Kelly graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Animal Sciences, and along with some graduate courses in microbiology.

With many of her graduate credits due to expire seven years after taking the courses, Kelly eventually realized that if she couldn't be among the top 15 riders at any particular track, it was time to hang up the tack and go back to school.

So at odds of 40-1, trainer Alice Cohn hoisted Kelly aboard Clouds of Mist. It was a beautifully timed trip. The perfect finish to this talented woman's career.

Almost at that same moment, Joe Bravo was in Florida, relishing his return to the races aboard a horse named Scagnelli. His was was a similar ride to Kelly's, but the promise of more awaited in the winner circle. There will be many more victories for Joe Bravo before he retires.

"Winning on Scagnelli was like winning The Kentucky Derby," Bravo remarked. "After eight months of hospital beds, crutches, wheel chairs and physical therapy, and then to win with the first horse I rode in a race, was simply unbelievable."

Joe got fit working horses at West Palm Beach Downs, and working on his own body with four workouts a day.

"Trainer Eddie Broome is like family to me," said Bravo. "We won a lot of races together when I was a bug boy at Philly Park. So when he lifted me on board Scagnelli, Broome patted the horse on the neck, and told him to just get me around the track. We were both confident he would make my comeback complete.

"And I'm fit and ready. I can ride 10 races a day if I have to," boasts the 100 lb., 5'1" New Jersey native.

Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore will be Joe's summer home. It is where Bravo was champion rider eight out of ten seasons between 1991 and 2000.

Bravo checks back in, Sampson checks out.

It's the way things go in sports, athletes flow in out of various games nearly every day of every week.

But we must take note of these two because they are both winners. Both are fine ambassadors of the game. Both deserve every ounce of the applause they have ever received.

Bravo Joe! Bravo Kelly!


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