updated 05/03/2014 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/04/2014 AT 5:00 PM ET
Ava Sambora is daddy’s little girl, for sure.
“She and I are close and have a candid relationship,” Richie Sambora told PEOPLE exclusively from the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky, where he performed at the famed Barnstable Brown Gala, hosted by sisters Patricia and Cyb Barnstable, on Friday.
“Boundaries are set,” says the Bon Jovi guitarist, 54. “That doesn’t budge. She is an amazing kid and dedicated to school. She’s acting. The first audition she [went] out for was Judd Apatow’s This is 40 – and she got it. She’s been doing Disney stuff. I’m really proud of her – she’s just a joy. My favorite girl – her and my mom, I always say.”
As for Ava’s mom, his ex-wife, Heather Locklear, Sambora tells PEOPLE, “Time does heal old wounds. I mean, I still love Heather and I know she loves me. She’s the mother of my child, man. What can you say?”
While Sambora has a soft spot for the current ladies in his life, the evening was dedicated to his late grandmother, Stella Sienila, who lost her life to diabetes. At the famed Barnstable Brown Gala, held each year the night before the Derby, the rocker auctioned off a Swarovski crystal-encrusted guitar he designed for $32,000. The money was donated to the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center in honor of Sienila.
“This is close to my heart because my grandmother died of diabetes,” explained Sambora, who also threw in a free guitar lesson for the top bidder.
He played some of Bon Jovi’s and The Beatles’s biggest hits onstage, singing along with Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Travis Tritt, J Gill and Taylor Dayne as the group tossed the microphones back and forth.
The philanthropic rocker, who is recording a new album with Australian guitarist Orianthi, made headlines last year when he said he was taking a break from Bon Jovi after 30 years with the band.