Backstretch With Gordon: Remembering Dave Brower

Gordon Waterstone

Lexington, KY — I didn’t know. But I knew.

I received a text from Gabe Prewitt yesterday morning at 11:45 while I was still home getting ready to head to The Red Mile for the afternoon races asking if I had spoken to Dave Brower. I replied that I hadn’t, and Gabe sent back that he was worried since Dave hadn’t yet arrived at The Red Mile and that was very unusual. It was right then that I dreaded the worst.

Not sure why I felt that way. After all, I just saw Dave Thursday morning at the track. And we’ve been hanging out a bit the past two weeks while he’s in Lexington, although there were some missed opportunities for us to get together.

But I did feel that way, that something horrible had happened.

As soon as I arrived at the racetrack I received a phone call from a Hall of Fame trainer asking about Dave and if the rumors were true. When I walked to the grandstand and looked up and saw an empty podium where Dave and Gabe should have been doing their pre-game show, my heart sank.

I went into the main office and down the hall and I could see Gabe through the glass window and when I saw the look on his face I knew. A few others were in the office and the only thing I could think of doing was to give Gabe a hug. No words were spoken. And we hugged.

Dave Brower passed away unexpectedly Thursday night (Oct. 6). Meadowlands photo.

Just 53 years old, Dave was found unresponsive in his room at the hotel adjacent to the racetrack. Dave was in Lexington to host the simulcast show, arriving in the Bluegrass after doing the same during Little Brown Jug week in Delaware, Ohio. As much as Dave loved The Meadowlands, he really thrived in Lexington.

As word filtered out the mood at The Red Mile turned somber. And it was like that the entire day. I’m not sure how Gabe made it through calling the entire 10-race card yesterday but he did.

Gabe told me after the card was finished that the whole day was a blur to him. It was the same for me and I’m sure the same for many others. There were a lot of hugs going around, and I need to especially thank Yannick Gingras’ wife, Vicki, who saw me sitting on the wall about midstretch and came over to give me a hug. And another thanks especially to my USTA co-worker, Rich Johnston, for his support yesterday. And there were many others, too many to list.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about Dave. My friendship with Dave goes back many, many years. In addition to our love of harness racing, we had a common love in cats. While us humans know what is going on, Dave’s cat that he called ‘The Diva’ doesn’t, and I’m sure she will really miss her dad. My cat Willow has been a bit sick the last couple weeks and I’m pretty sure a day didn’t go by that Dave didn’t ask about her health. This morning Willow seems nearly back to her old self, and I can’t give the good news to Dave.

It took me some time to start typing after I turned my computer on this morning. I just stared at the keyboard and screen, not knowing what to write. Just like yesterday, people not knowing what to say to each other. Nick Salvi walked by me and we just looked at each other, and then later I sat with him in an apron box, and again we didn’t know what to say to each other.

What can you say? Yes, Dave — whose boyish looks years ago earned him the nickname ‘Doogie,’ after the TV character Doogie Howser — had some health issues, but don’t we all? He had lost a lot of weight recently but he kept telling me he was feeling good. That’s why this is so totally shocking.

My phone never stopped ringing with calls and texts all day, asking if the news was true. I spent much of last night looking at social media and all of the posts about Dave. As Art Zubrod posted, if you met Dave Brower you were his friend. Dave had that special knack about him, making you feel as if you were his best friend, even if you just met him. Several years ago some friends from Michigan, Tim and Nicole Marken, wanted to get married over Hambletonian weekend at The Meadowlands, and Dave took the time to meet and greet them. And to this day, Dave remained in contact with the Markens.

Dave’s primary job was to host the TV show at The Meadowlands, sitting alongside Dave Little the past five years. As Dave Little wrote in a release sent out by The Meadowlands, he said that “sitting next to Dave Brower for the last five years has been the greatest pleasure of my entire career.”

Dave Little is a Communicators Hall of Famer, and Dave Brower was certainly headed there as well. This past year he and Meadowlands announcer Ken Warkentin were both under strong consideration, but Dave said that Ken was more deserving and that he will wait until his time. That’s what kind of guy Dave Brower was. Willing to put others before himself.

Dave also did the morning-line at The Big M, he made the handicapping comments, and he was always on the phone hunting down trainers for comments. Alongside Gary Seibel, Dave for many years co-hosted the national TV coverage of the Hambletonian at The Meadowlands.

Dave just loved racing. So much so, that some nights he would post on social media that if anyone would message him their phone number he would give a call so they could talk racing.

I told Dave he was crazy doing that, but he said he loved getting a chance to talk to people he normally wouldn’t. That’s why social media was flooded with posts about Dave as he touched so many people through the years.

Jimmy Takter told me yesterday that Dave never had a bad word to say about anybody. So very true. He always saw the good in people and he always had a smile on his face.

Dave called me about 5 p.m. the day after the Jug and that he had just arrived in Lexington. He wanted to get together but I already had plans. We didn’t get together actually until Monday, when we went to dinner with Nick, Gabe, Joe Holloway and Karl Nagle. Dave and I sat together at the Kentuckiana party last Thursday, and there was some great conversation as we were joined by Jimmy, Christina and Nancy Takter and Buck and Judy Chaffee. Dave and I talked Thursday morning about dinner plans for the weekend.

Dave loved to eat. He was probably the busiest poster on the Harness Racing Foodies Facebook page, displaying photos of his meals. One of my memories on my own Facebook page today was from 11 years ago, when Dave posted a photo of the dinner he was having at Nick Ryan’s with Nick Salvi and myself.

We have two more race cards to get through at The Red Mile. Cindy Solverson let me know that a tribute to Dave will be held in The Red Mile winner’s circle following the third race Saturday.

Dave was so much looking forward to this weekend’s racing, especially Sunday’s card with the Kentucky Futurity and world champ Bulldog Hanover in the Allerage. C’mon Bulldog, let’s lower that 1:45.4 mark for Dave, who surely will be looking down at us all day. Actually, I bet Dave and the late Meadowlands announcer Sam McKee, who passed away in 2017 at the age of just 54 and was one of Dave’s closest friends, will be watching together.

To all of Dave’s family, including his mother and his sister, Laura, and his many, many, many friends, I express my condolences. It still doesn’t seem real. I keep seeing the headline but I keep hoping that I’m going to wake up and it was all a nightmare.

Gabe concluded Friday’s program by noting that despite such a tragic day, many stepped to the plate. That includes Bob Heyden, Jessica Otten and Scott Zeron, who conducted interviews that normally would have been done by Dave. Bob is a veteran, Scott certainly has a future in broadcasting when his driving career is over, and Jessica, well Jessica has become a master at her profession. And Dave Brower had a lot to do with that as she has stated his guidance was priceless.

As I wrap this up, thanks to my sponsors, Steve and Cindy Stewart’s Hunterton Farm and Hunterton Sales Agency, who had a fantastic week at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. And thanks to Dave Brower for his unbelievable friendship through the years. While I only saw him a couple times of the year at most since he was in New Jersey and I’m in Kentucky, we spoke often. Horses, cats, our health, everything.

And it seemed fitting that when I was driving home from the racetrack this morning to write this column — which will be the final one this year — the Rascal Flatts song What Hurts The Most came on the radio. Losing Dave hurts the most.

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