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Thursday Thoughts: Food for Thought with Dave Brower

by Al Cimaglia

May 10, 2018

When I think of a harness racing personality the first person who pops into my mind is Dave Brower. Currently, Brower is the oddsmaker and studio host for the Meadowlands. Brower has personally experienced the highs and lows of the harness racing industry over his career. Recently, Dave was willing to share some thoughts as his passion and candor about the sport he loves is easily recognizable.

Dave, you have worn a few hats in your harness racing career. Currently, one of your duties is being the oddsmaker for the Meadowlands. Can you describe the process of making the morning line?

It starts when the program proofs are emailed to me on Tuesday night. It's a double draw, so I get both Friday and Saturday night's races. I check off the up's/down's in class and then I examine each race very carefully. I try to figure out who the favorite is first, then so on, and so on. Each horse's odds are assigned a point total, and to be mathematically correct, it all must add up to a range of 124-127. Sometimes, I cheat a point or two, like with the 12-horse races this past weekend.

When I'm done with my initial morning line, we wait for the late driver changes on Wednesday morning. Then I adjust if necessary, based on driver's choices. Then it all goes to the program director who prepares it for the print shop, which for the Meadowlands is DRF Harness.

It seems in recent years many tracks have gone to a service like Trackmaster for their morning line. I don't think a computer can make a morning line as well as a person. What are your thoughts, and do you think the reason to not use a track handicapper is basically a cost savings decision?

Personally, I am not a fan of the computer morning line, because it can't take into account all the variables of an experienced person. I've also heard quite a few complaints about the computer line, but I won't get into that. I have more than 30 years of experience watching races and did the line for the Meadowlands from 1996-2011. I was rehired back in May of last year. I usually can tell which horses will be bet, and which ones will not. I know which drivers always get bet, and which ones do not. That type of experience is why I usually get it right. It's impossible to get them always right, but I think I do a pretty good job. As far as the cost savings view, I'm sure that comes into play at a lot of tracks.

I usually never pay much attention to pictures of food dishes that are posted on Twitter. I have to say the pictures you post do catch my eye, whether you create the dish, or it is from a restaurant you are dining at. Before we get into the heavy stuff...Are you a foodie and is cooking a hobby?

I love food, it's how I de-stress, especially when I'm preparing the dish. Nothing quite captivates the eye like a good-looking plate of food. So, I am definitely a foodie, and I enjoy seeing everybody's food pictures. We even have a group on Facebook called "Harness Racing Foodies." It's very active and people put up pictures all day. It's fun stuff!

The introduction of the Pick 10 Survivor wager last year was an interesting initiative. Were you a part of its creation and how has it done?

I had nothing to do with the idea, or implementation, but I do like the bet. I've even taken a stab or two at it myself, but with no success so far. I do like that we can publicize a lone winner, who takes home between $15,000-$20,000. That attracts attention, and that's our job, to promote.

How is your current meet going and are you pleasantly surprised or otherwise by any of the handle figures thus far?

I would say that at the Meadowlands, we're hanging in there. The winter meet was pretty good, with many full cards (14 races) and many full fields. However, this time of year when all the Pennsylvania tracks open, it becomes much more difficult for Pete Koch (racing secretary) to fill those races. I know that nobody wants to bet a six-horse field at the Meadowlands with a 1-5 shot in it. Believe me, I don't either. Unfortunately, in the current political climate here in New Jersey there's little we can do about it. We're all hoping that our new Governor will give us a break and reinstall that subsidy for our purses. That will attract more horses. Overall, our Pick 4 pools have been great and the new bet, the Survivor Pick 10 is slowly gaining a following.

The upcoming Supreme Court decision to legalize sports betting could impact horse racing. If it passes it will be all systems go in New Jersey with many other states likely to follow. This is a two-part question-If legalized will the Big M jump in and possibly handle sports betting on track? What overall effect could legal sports betting have on horse racing?

Without knowing all the parameters and how the law would be written, I'm not sure how much it will affect us right away at the Meadowlands. I do know that Monmouth would see instant gratification, and I'd love to see that for them. Monmouth is ready to go, and at this point in New Jersey, anything is better than nothing. Eventually, I'm sure we could work it into play at the Big M and that would be welcomed.

Harness racing has challenges to restore and grow its fan base. What would you do to improve the harness racing industry, restore public trust and attract younger fans?

I do everything I can in my role as a TV personality to get people to watch. At the Meadowlands, we have the greatest TV staff in the industry. Night after night, we put out a tremendous broadcast. It's filled with non-stop action, information, race replays, handicapping and it never stops. We even had some live shows this winter that were broadcast on SNY. I received lots of positive feedback on those shows, from people that weren't diehard racing fans. We'll have another live show on Meadowlands Pace night. Then on Hambletonian Day, I get to join Gary Seibel on the CBS Sports Network national broadcast. That is always 90 minutes of action, including the sport's greatest race. Just look at last year! Could we possibly have had any more drama than a disqualification of the winner for the first time in the 92-year history of the race? We explained it all and kept everybody informed. I was proud to be a part of that show.

In my view, harness racing is fragmented whereby every jurisdiction and each track seems to manage their business in a vacuum. Do you think it will ever be possible to have one rulebook, one agenda whereby racetracks all over North America will be on the same page?

Unfortunately, I do not. Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but every jurisdiction seems to be out for themselves only. It's too much of an uphill climb to get everybody on board and on the same page.

Where do you think the Meadowlands and harness racing in general, will be within the next three years?

If I could answer that I'd be a magician, but nobody knows. I lived through this when the Meadowlands almost closed in 2011, and it cost me my job and career at the time. I'm back in it, but I can't say that I know it will be okay. I'm saying my prayers like everybody else.

Great stuff Dave, and Thanks for your time!

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.