The incalculable loss of Dave Brower

by Bob Heyden




That’s for starters.

The sudden passing of Dave Brower on the morning of Oct. 7 was deeply shocking.

I think of all the people in racing I might have known Brower the longest. Right around 1986-1987 there was a young man hanging around the press box at the Meadowlands, His presence would become more frequent the following year or so. You know the term gym rat? Dave was the very first “press box pest.”

Years later, when reminded of that he smiled and readily agreed. You see, he always loved the sport. Now, as an over-eager teen, he was priming himself to do something about it.

I was there when some decisions like “let that young kid do it” or “He won’t mind” were made by writers or management — circa 1989/1990 or so. Brower was the happiest guy on earth doing anything associated with racing. That’s because he knew thoroughbreds, too, and he worked at a track that occasionally played host to both breeds.

The standardbred sport invited Brower to join the table and he quickly sat down. I’m not sure in the past three decades plus I know of a better fit. He became in the last 20 years or so a 24/7 walking advertisement for the sport. Big events — Brower was right there. And if he was not working the gig, he was schmoozing with someone somewhere. If harness racing was a Democratic Convention, he would have won the nomination on the first ballot.

Friend Anthony DeFrancesco III said, “We lost a great person when God called Dave last week. I’ve known Dave many years and we would text opinions on horses back and forth. The way horses raced and whether or not to follow them next week. He loved the game. On Jug day, he gave me a shout-out on live feed and I’m a nobody. To him I was somebody and he made my day. It’s amazing how just minutes after this happened social media became ‘Brower media.’ Everyone posting their condolences. Even Bulldog’s race wasn’t the same. I know we all need to go on but we should all keep Dave in our conversations as if he was still here. He won’t be replaced because they don’t make them like him anymore.”

In the early 1990s with the popularity of the TV show Doogie Howser, Brower was also given that nickname Doogie by Moira Fanning. I am 99 per cent sure of that. The name was not original, but Brower was. One of the first jobs he held was with Sports Eye charting races. He was Charlie Singer-like in his ability to see pretty much everything in the race the first time. It was also about this time that Brower was revealed as a bonafide foodie — long before anyone had even heard that term.

Michelle Egli said, “He was a great guy and I’ll miss him. Harness racing won’t be the same. He was a giving devoted friend, cat lover, a foodie and a damned good cook.”

Brower’s dad passed in 1992. They both had already made many friends in the industry by then. Brower made his way onto TV semi-regularly not too long after that. Program selections too. Simulcasting was coming into clearer focus around then. The saying “Live TV” would now be heard regularly around the TV crew and press box. Almost everything prior was on tape. In 1998-2001, The “INSIDE TRACK” began and I think Brower’s visibility was now commonplace. He was a big part of show which was 30 minutes per week of pretty much every big race. That was not easy to do. Brower was just as comfortable on the apron as he was on the TV set. No adjustments needed. What you always saw was what you got.

Mark Weaver said, “Still hard to process. He was a mainstay on so many of the sports’ biggest days. He will be missed!”

Sarah Lauren and Howard Perlmutter said, “He was simply selfless in the booth. He would be odds-on to give a shout-out to any individual — high profile or not — to those who made any contribution to the sport. It was his life’s passion to bring harness racing to the forefront. Other social interactions came second.”

Steve Katz said, “As a fellow native of Passaic County, I always took pride in Dave’s accomplishments. He truly loved the sport and its people-and of course, our horses. In a way he filled a similar role — especially on social media — to Del Miller as harness racing’s ‘Goodwill Ambassador.’”

Joel Kahan, a 20-year regular right next to the TV set said, “Dave Brower was the best TV host in the business. He was a natural for TV. He loved harness racing and was a top ambassador for the sport. A great guy and everyone’s friend. I will miss seeing him on TV and when I go back to the Meadowlands. ‘Brower power’ was one of my lines.”

In 2010, for the very first time, the Breeders Crown went to a one-site, one-night format at Pocono. I did the entire show with Brower. From sunlight at 5 in the afternoon to frostbite at midnight. Not a complaint from Brower, though. This was where he had always dreamed of being.

Brower always had a “reset” button nearby — and he wasn’t even married.

You see, we all get out of hand at times. We all are hard to deal with on occasion — me included, most certainly. Brower had an uncanny sense of this. There could be chaos everywhere but soon order was restored. A certain air of calm that served him — and us — well.

John Kopas never even met Brower, but said, “Just watching him on the many broadcasts he was on I knew he was a great asset to the business. We have lost a shining star.”

Peter Blood also never met Brower, but said, “I did know his work. His passing will leave a monumental void in the broadcasting of our sport.”

Bruce Riegle lives in Kentucky and appreciated Brower’s input. Riegel said, “He was the King of the Red Mile. All sorts of people knew him. When he went on air he had his news and current events updated.”

Paul Kelley recognized the fan in Brower. Kelley said, “We all know what a true fan of the game Dave was but more importantly he was a kind person. That’s what is most important in life.”

Matt McDowell is a field service technician, Brower’s besties did not have to be in the biz. McDowell said, “First time I met him was in the Meadowlands paddock. I was fairly new. He showed me around from there and it was an instant friendship. Then the next year he and some friends were at the Red Mile. We all met up for dinner and I showed my buddies all around Lexington. Anytime we would see each other we would sit and talk and catch up. A great friend and would do anything for anyone.”

James Witherite said, “Dave was one of the best, if not THE best, goodwill ambassador racing ever had. In my 16 years working the sport, I’ve always known Dave to be someone who encouraged, included and made the people around him better. He was the consummate pro — always knowing how to amplify the stories of the horses, horsepeople and horseplayers while never injecting himself into the plot. Always accessible to the fans and participants and genuinely willing to engage when off the set. We’re all richer for having known the man.”

Carter Pinske is about half Brower’s’ age. Of course, that made no difference to Brower. Carter said, “Dave was very professional and a true fan of the sport. Like Sam McKee, when you think of big races or the Meadowlands, It’s the voice you hear. Hard to replace.”

Sam McKee — gone in 2017 at 54. Brower was 53. McKee’s last weekend ever at the Red Mile was the 1:46 flat from Always B Miki in 2016. Brower’s last weekend included his picks in the program right up to Sunday. When 1:46 was reached again — this time by Allywag Hanover.

McKee and Brower had been a tandem since 1999 when McKee officially made the move from Michigan to the Meadowlands.. Let me relate what McKee’s wife Chris had to say, “In Sam’s own words, ‘The guy was a class act. He was always professional and could read the room — never needing to be scripted and seemingly pulling from his deep knowledge of harness racing.’ Brower could always fill the gaps where Sam lacked — reaching the fan base on a personal level via social media. Dave was pure on-air talent.”

Bob McClure said, “An absolute gift to our industry for many years. A complete gentleman that I’m not sure ever had a bad day.”

Dave Palone said, “Dave absolutely loved what he did for a living and he was very good at it. Complete gut punch for all of us. So sorry for his family.”

Travis Alexander said, “Dave was the rare individual who always was the same person on or off the camera. Friend of mine — friend of the business. He will be greatly missed.”

P J Fraley took care of Mr Muscleman (2002-2008 or so), but he and Brower were buds even prior to that. Fraley said, “From the backside to the press box Dave was always a true gentleman — more like a good friend. Whether it would be sitting having a cold beer and barbeque talking about horses or just asking how life was. I often would make it a point to stop up to the booth and say Hi. With a big smile he would greet me and ask me if I liked anything and then tell, ‘PJ, I can never get anything out of you.’ He will be truly missed and his legacy will live on forever.”

Sometimes in life we all fall guilty to expecting too much — especially continuity. Your favorite TV series has been great for the first two seasons — of course there’ll be a third. Three decades the same favorite deli — No need to change now. Your hometown team just won five in a row — Why not 6-7-8?

But, what do we do when the continuity is tragically disrupted? Gather together, for sure. Unify. We are reminded of the frailty of life and to live every single day. Hold your loved ones closer.

The Kentucky Futurity – Bulldog Hanover weekend was the one where we lost Brower. You can be sure he did not want to be the story — ever. These are the weekends and events he lived for. Brower lived his life his own way. How many of us can say we were crazed teenage fans who then launched a successfully career in that very business?

The next weeks, months and years will offer constant reminders of Dave Brower. Obvious ones and small potatoes, too.

He was far too young for anyone to forget. Yet, he packed a ton into that bio. We’ll miss a lot from Dave Brower.

His 40-year “high on harness racing” journey has now ended.

Thanks, buddy, for taking us along.