Harnessing Winners: A Tribute to Dave Brower– By Dean Keppler

When Dave Brower first walked into the Meadowlands Racetrack with his father a little over four decades ago, the sport of harness racing secured a fan and game ambassador for life. His level of dedication, love, and unrivalled devotion to the sport he cherished would touch thousands of people over his short lifetime. Whether he was preparing for a live winter Friday or Saturday evening broadcast at the Meadowlands, or a special big race-day event such as the Hambletonian or Little Brown Jug– his preparation was the same. He was knowledgeable, well-prepared, witty, and charming representative of the game he adored and loved so much. Dave’s unique and likable personality shined through to anyone who listened or watched a broadcast. Dave was everyone’s friend and respected every person fortunate enough to cross his path. He was caring, generous and non-judgmental. Whether you were a fan who wandered up to the broadcast booth to rehash a $2 bad beat, or an owner of a multi-million-dollar Standardbred competing in an upcoming stake race– Dave’s carriage and attitude remained the same. He was attentive, gracious, responsive, and kind.

Dave and I had similar introductions to horse racing. We both had our fathers as influential mentors who introduced us to harness racing at a young age. I grew up 5 minutes from Yonkers Raceway and Dave a short distance from the Meadowlands in Passaic, NJ. Over the next several decades we’d both spend countless evenings at our favorite harness venue. We never crossed paths in our early days, but both admired our heroes of that era separated by only a 20-minute car ride and the New York/New Jersey arm branch better known as the George Washington bridge. There was John Campbell, William O’Donnell, Carmine Abbatiello, Cat Manzi, Walter Case Jr., Mike Lachance, Ben Webster, and Herve Filion– to name just a few all-time great drivers from our adolescent years. This group alone undoubtedly racked up thousands of commuting miles trekking back and forth from New Jersey and New York. Or the four-legged hero variety such as Cam Fella, Forrest Skipper, Niatross, Nihilator, and Mack Lobell. Over the years, I drifted more toward thoroughbred racing but continued to follow and wager on both. When I relocated to South Jersey in college Freehold Raceway became my frequent harness track of choice because of its proximity. At the time I worked part time for the local Freehold post office and remember the excitement of having Catello Manzi on my delivery route one afternoon. I can still remember Dave’s laugh and big smile as I rehashed the story. Dave remained loyal to his standardbred base and community achieving great accomplishments and milestones in the industry.

I first met Dave in 2008. I was working at Daily Racing Form managing and then directing their DRF Press book division. When the company expressed an interest in producing a harness racing title, I knew there was only one person fitting for the assignment. Our friendship blossomed immediately after a lengthy phone call about the prospective book title. Dave and I frequently reminisced about the old days. We had hundreds of stories and good laughs about the two harness tracks we visited frequently and our general communal gambling and handicapping upbringing. We both followed and admired the Rangers and Yankees. We became instant friends. Over the next several months we put together his book titled Harnessing Winners. Dave was an absolute pleasure to work with. He was one of those authors most editors dreamt about. Not only was he eager to write about the sport he loved but he was professional, accommodating and respondent during the whole book publishing process. For those who knew Dave a lot longer than I, this was just par for the course. The type of friend and person he was. Irreplaceable.

When I lost my job at DRF shortly thereafter I was devastated. Dave was the first one to pick up the phone and check on me. He knew how important the position was to me and understood the devastation of losing employment in an industry one cherished so much. When you lose your dream job there’s a ton of distress and disappointment. It’s difficult and sometimes impossible to bounce back from. He immediately invited me up to the Meadowlands empty press box one cold cloudy Tuesday winter afternoon. We shared a six-pack of Heineken and rehashed the game and industry. It’s low and high points. And there were many over the years in this challenging profession. For many who work in racing it’s all about the love of the sport. It’s certainly not about the money or glory. Dave’s positive attitude, personality and encouragement was just what I needed during that dark period. He helped me immensely during a difficult time both personally and professionally.

When Dave signed my copy of Harnessing Winners he wrote this short note: “Thanks so very much for getting me involved with this! I won’t ever forget it.” And he didn’t. He often joked that he was finally putting his journalism degree from St. Johns to good use. Whether it was a baseball cap, general admission passes for the live Monmouth or Meadowlands meet, or an invite to tag along for a short trip of simulcasting at Atlantic City– Dave always thought of me. He always asked how my son Matt and wife Lou-Ann were doing. He genuinely cared. Although we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together– As life has a cruel way of doing that sometimes– We messaged and spoke on the phone frequently. I’m grateful we got to spend one last afternoon picnicking at Monmouth Park this past June playing the ponies and reminiscing about the years past. As usual Dave didn’t come empty handed. A bag full of racing goodies for all my BBQ guests.

Now appropriately titled, the Standardbred industry “harnessed a winner” when they found Dave Brower. His dedication and mark in the industry will live forever in the thousands of fans and hearts he touched both inside and outside of racing.

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