Spottin’ more Otten

by Debbie Little

When The Meadowlands returns with live harness racing on Nov. 4, people will be spottin’ Otten a lot more.

Jessica Otten, 25, has been promoted from Meadowlands’ marketing coordinator/on air personality to TV host and Fox Sports show host.

“There’s nothing more that I like to do than promote from within,” said Big M chief operating officer/general manager Jason Settlemoir. “To listen to Dave Brower and what he had to say about her – and Dave Little as well – and the other people around her, I think that this is a natural next step for Jessica.

“And I thought about the chemistry between her and Dave [Little] and I think that it will be a success. Everything takes a little bit of time, but overall, I think that Jessica and Dave will match really well on the desk. That’s a lot of what TV is, it’s the chemistry of the people that are on the desk and in the field. And I think that Jessica did a wonderful job when she was on the desk and Dave does a great job and I’m looking forward to seeing their chemistry together.”

Otten’s new title is well deserved considering how hard she has worked and successful she has been since arriving at The Meadowlands in late 2018. In fact, the U.S. Harness Writers Association honored her for fine work with the 2021 Barasch Breakthrough award, but it’s not lost on her that the timing of her promotion is connected to sadness.

“Something horrible happened for this to happen and it’s hard for me to grasp that,” said Otten of the untimely passing of Big M TV host Brower. “When we weren’t racing, I still talked to him once or twice a week and when we were racing, we were exchanging emails and phone calls and text messages. He wasn’t only a mentor; he was a very good friend. He was like family. He always checked on me.

“When I moved to the east coast, I moved by myself. I didn’t really know anybody other than who I worked with, aside from a couple of horsemen. And he really took me under his wing when I moved here to make sure I was okay.”

Everyone in The Meadowlands family is still mourning the loss of Brower, 53, who died only two weeks ago.

“It’s never easy when you lose somebody like Dave. Not only as a friend and colleague but as a person that was obviously so well loved in the industry and was so very talented at what he did on air,” said Settlemoir. “He worked his passion and that was horse racing and TV.”

Otten was in Lexington shooting features for the Fox Breeders Crown shows when she heard about Brower, who was also in Lexington at the time of his death from natural causes.

“When I was at the Red Mile having to fill in for him, I think that was the hardest part,” said Otten, who did the pregame show and onset interviews in Brower’s stead. “Sitting there doing what he was supposed to be doing, not because he wasn’t there because he didn’t feel good, but because he was never coming back.

“I have no idea how I kept my composure in Lexington. I think the first day I was still numb. I was on the phone with my mom and I said I can’t do this. And she said ‘Yes you can. Dave wouldn’t want anybody else.’ It was weird, but I know he’s proud of me.”

According to Little, what made he and Brower the top team in the business was that they had different strengths and knew how to bring out the best in each other.

“In time, I believe it will be the same with Jessica,” said Little. “Just like Dave, but maybe even more so, she knows a lot about the horse and its equipment, which is not my strength.

“Going in, I didn’t know what the “Dave and Dave” show would be, but I felt it would be good. I feel the exact same way about my partnership with Jessica. She is knowledgeable, professional and I’m excited for what this new show will become.”

All agree that the first shows could be difficult when Brower’s absence will be fully felt.

“The only thing I’ve been thinking about is how are we all supposed to go back to work and act like everything is, okay?” said Otten, who expects tears to be shed on both opening night and at Brower’s Celebration of Life service on Nov. 12. “It’s not. I’m sure it’s going to be tough. It’ll be kind of taking me back to February when my grandma passed away.

“I’ll do my damnedest to make him proud sitting in his chair but I never want people to think that I’m there to replace him.”