Don’t call it a comeback, Doug Brown’s been here for years

The Canadian Hall of Famer is having fun training and driving Hesohot Hanover.

by Melissa Keith

On Friday (Nov. 24), a familiar name returned to the Woodbine Mohawk Park winner’s circle. Trainer/driver Doug Brown disregarded the 30-1 odds on 5-year-old Hesohot Hanover (4, 1:55.1s; $88,079), instead delivering a last-to-first 1:57 victory from post 10. 

“I thought he’d be good, but I didn’t think he’d be that good,” said the winning driver.

Hesohot Hanover is a Bar Hopping—Hotentrot Hanover gelding owned by Todd Coleman, Paris, ON; Jackson Wittup, Calgary, AB; and James Gillam, Gilmour, ON, and has made the most of his 77 lifetime starts for the same horseman he started out with, Canadian Hall of Fame trainer/driver Brown. It was the trotter’s 12th career victory, and first pari-mutuel win at Mohawk since Oct. 31, 2022, when he got the job done for catch driver Paul MacDonell.

Brown told HRU he has been bringing the horse to the Campbellville, ON track himself.

“I’m a one-man show now,” Brown said.

Brown was inducted into its Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2006. He was an obvious choice, having captured the Ontario Jockey Club’s dash-winning title every year between 1988-1997, when the OJC (now Woodbine Entertainment) harness tracks included Greenwood Raceway, Woodbine Racetrack, and Mohawk Raceway. Now 68, Brown has training stats reflecting 416 wins from 2,265 starts, and an even stronger resume as a driver: 8,547 wins from 50,771 drives.

He has three horses at the moment.

“I’ve got a 2-year-old I’m going to bring back in now, another Bar Hopping [colt], and then we bought a third, a Bar Hopping filly,” Brown said. “They’re very smart horses. They’re smarter than me. The colt is Sushi Bar and the filly is Daffy Hanover. She’s good on the track, but she’s a little rambunctious in the stall. But that’s okay, we can put up with that.”

He recently relocated to be a little closer to Woodbine Mohawk Park. 

“I’m at Mike Wade’s farm, everything’s good,” he said. “We actually moved in right next door a year ago, so everything worked out really good. I was driving 45 minutes back and forth. Holy crap.”

Since Sept. 29, Brown has driven just one horse, Hesohot Hanover, at one track, Woodbine Mohawk Park. Friday night (Dec. 1), he added Angostura Hanover to his WMP schedule alongside last week’s upset winner, finishing eighth. He spent most of the year at Kawartha Downs, where he finished ninth in the 2023 driving standings. Brown began his driving career with a winning debut there at age 17, driving a pacer named Out Ahead.

Hesohot Hanover also began his racing career at Kawartha Downs, located on the outskirts of Peterborough, ON. Brown has been his only trainer. He said the trotter got off to a slow start, through no fault of his own.

“I just loved him after about his fourth or fifth start at [age] 2, and then had him all ready and qualified him at Mohawk, I think it was April as a 3-year-old, and that’s when the COVID [-19] hit,” Brown said. “So, I sent him down to The Meadows with Tim Twaddle and he did pretty good down there, he won three or four races, and he came home with a big knee, so he missed the whole winter that year, just trying to get his knee down. I always said he was probably a better horse in the winter, because his breathing’s a little funky. So, this is the first winter I’ve had a chance to really race him.”

Brown said Hesohot Hanover had just 21 starts this season, because of medical issues. 

“The reason he was off so much this year is he had three throat surgeries done,” he said. “I always said he’s a good horse, but he wants to be a great horse. He’s just got that attitude. There’s nothing about him you don’t like; he just wants to go out there and please you every time he’s out there, but he’s just had so many issues. After the last surgery, he shows bleeding two starts in a row, so I ended up putting on Lasix, and it seems to have really helped him.”

With 74 drives this year alone, mostly at Kawartha, Brown has never really retired. The Hall of Famer’s one 2022 victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park was Aug. 19, capturing a Pop-Up Series consolation with Hesohot Hanover. 

Statistics show that he’s driven in pari-mutuel races every season since 1977, but Brown corrected the year to 1972 (“maybe it’s carved in stone,” he said with a laugh about the older statistics.)

He became the 12th driver in history to reach 8,000 wins on Oct. 5, 2004, reaching the milestone with pacer Solar Jasper at Kawartha. His seven O’Brien Awards speak to the consistent level of his talent on Canada’s top circuit.

Dec. 1, Hesohot Hanover and his driver were unable to repeat the previous Friday night’s success. Going first-over late, the gelding edged past leader Shes Beer League at three-quarters, but fell prey to fast-closing rivals in the stretch, finishing fifth.

“He raced okay [Friday] night, but he wears flip-flops up front and that [sloppy] track certainly didn’t suit him,” Brown said. “He was just working so hard with those flip-flops; it didn’t work out very good for him. He had a tough trip too: He raced first-over. He’s a tryer. He wants to be a really good horse, he’s just not there, that’s all.”

Don’t expect to see Brown slip away quietly into retirement. He’s too keen on Hesohot Hanover and his two young horses.

“I just like doing it,” Brown said. “We had been going to Florida, but since the COVID hit, we haven’t been back since. We’ve been going down every winter, and that’s actually where [Hesohot Hanover] was broke, Vero Beach in Florida… Hopefully next year we’ll head down for the winter.”

He said he does think about listing catch drivers more often than he used to.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “It’s been up in the air the last little while. I think maybe what I will do is just drive my own pretty much; like this guy [Hesohot Hanover], I may start using somebody else on him shortly. I don’t know; we’ll see what happens… When you only race once a week, it’s tough, because you’re not getting any breaks: It’s not like you’re in the next race so you can do the favor back. I just like the training part and the babies.”

Never count out “Brownie” at Canada’s biggest track. He told HRU it was a more challenging sport to get into back when he first began driving on the OJC circuit.

“No question,” he said. “I think when me and Steve Condren and guys like that broke in, it was way tougher to break in back then… You know, you had the Ronnie Waples and Ronnie Fagan and Bill Wellwood and Ross Curran and Allan Waddell, all those guys, they were mainstays for years and years, and to break in with them, it was tough, it was really tough. Now to me it seems much easier for guys to go there and break in… Maybe I’m just biased, but… there was eight or 10 of them who I don’t want to say, ‘owned the track,’ but it was tough to break in back then. If you did, you were doing some good.”

Watch for Hesohot Hanover and Brown again, probably as soon as next Friday (Dec. 8). The veteran horseman holds the trotter in high enough esteem to continue racing him at WMP.

“I just think he’s good enough for there, plus he goes his best races when you don’t use him [early] and he comes from way back,” Brown said. “He’s been that way his whole life… He’s just better at Mohawk because he likes the long stretch there.”