HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 9, 2022 – What with all the Breeders’ Cup preps and such, this column has been in the making for several weeks, but we finally settled on today because a special harness horse was scheduled to race today at The Red Mile.
I looked forward to this because, as the following private emails will show, it’s what true fans of horse racing are talking about, and because a time for special horses and historical performances might never occur in the same year again.
This was meant as a celebration, but you’ve heard the one about God laughing when one of the mortals make plans. And when we learned of the events of Thursday evening, it was gut-punchily cruel, sadistic. A friend, a young man was gone, just like that.
Whatever the belief system may be, happenstance is eternal, whether it’s meant to be or not. I only know that if I don’t share all of this, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
I was looking forward to this piece because it’s fun and thought provoking, events that most often turn out to be mutually exclusive, an unintended comparison of apples to oranges. Some may think this is all too maudlin, morose. I’m going with cathartic.
Several weeks ago, Michael Antoniades, a student of the game, a horseracing fan and booster, a member of the HRI Faithful, shared an email that I knew one day would be grist for HRI’s editorial mill. It was, and is, but as I was to discover, revealed in the aftermath of the cruelest set of circumstances. Michael wrote:
“I walked into the OTB
The Flightline comparisons continue.
Bulldog Hanover is the talk of the thoroughbred crowd too.
Trainer Jack Darling stated the TVG is on his schedule after the BC in late October.
The public frenzy begins for the world record attempt at Lexington on October 9.
He has reached the pantheon of popularity.
In my opinion, when Cam Fella was feted in 1983 after 28 straight wins in his four year old season, Bruce Johnston stated:
‘They had the faith and courage to race this horse as a four year old, when I’m sure they heard a hundred times from all the experts in the industry, ‘what have you got left to prove’?’
Well, he did have a lot left to prove, and he turned the whole industry around. I don’t think another great race horse will ever be able to retire to be a stallion without racing past his third year and be as great as Cam Fella.
“[An example] of The BULLDOG four year old effect:
Hoosier Pacing Derby Handle
2022: $312,758. 2021: $124,552. 2020: $108,937.
Pick 4: 2022: $46,416. 2021: $12,591. 2020: $12,904 [Pick 5].
Can you remotely imagine what 2022 would have been like if Flightline and Bulldog Hanover were retired after their three year old campaigns?
This is why horse racing desperately needs the stars on the track past their three year old seasons.”
Yesterday at Santa Anita, Flightline, author of the greatest single speed exhibition since Secretariat’s Belmont in 1973, had a “routine” five furlong breeze that went in one-minute and some change in preparation for his run in Breeders’ Cup Classic four weeks hence.
On the same weekend, Bulldog Hanover will attempt to lower his own world mark of 1:45 4/5 set in the Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands earlier this summer in the Allerage Farms Open Pace today at The Red Mile in Lexington which, of course, will play host the Breeders’ Cup next month, too.
I wanted to learn more about the phenomenal Bulldog, so I went to the source, my friend Dave Brower, who passed away suddenly Thursday night at age 53. The following is an edited version of the response he sent me:
“Bulldog Hanover has created the biggest stir in our sport, probably since Muscle Hill, the 2009 Hambletonian winner and eventual Dan Patch Horse of the Year. His career record stood at 20-21, amassing over $3.2 million in earnings.
“The Bulldog speed show has traveled to several different tracks in North America, where he’s won 25 of 33, bankroll sitting at $1.79 million. The highlight race came on July 16 when he paced the fastest mile in the history of the sport: 1:45.4/5.
..It was a night you’ll not soon forget. Many fans knew some sort of record was possible but at the finish line as Bulldog romped away, everyone’s eyes shifted to the Teletimer, which revealed the record.
“Since then, the Bulldog has continued to break track records and unleash win after devastating win. No aged pacer has ever ripped off a streak like this, maybe not since Cam Fella. And that’s a long time ago.
“…Co-owner and trainer Jack Darling, a noted top developer of colts in his native Canada. picked up Bulldog for only $28,000 at the 2018 Harrisburg yearling sale. Why so cheap? Maybe because he was the 14th foal of his dam, BJ’s Squall. That’s getting a little long in the tooth. Of her prior foals, only one earned more than half a million.
“Driver Dexter Dunn has run out of accolades to describe the breathtaking speed when he asks the Bulldog for it. In fact, he often has trouble pulling the horse up after the race. Sometimes he goes all the way to the half-mile pole!
“He’s been so dominant over the past few months that he’s almost embarrassing very good fields of horses that have earned over a million dollars. He just leaves them in the dust. And he’s not just a front-end speed horse. He’s won from off the pace too!
“…If the weather cooperates, anything can happen. This is the fastest track in the sport when the conditions are right. The previous record of 1:46 was established in this race by Always B Miki several years ago.
“I have received countless emails, messages, Facebooks, Tweets, etc. about the Bulldog and many loyal harness fans have been overjoyed to see him in person at the tracks he’s visited, some traveling hours out of their way.
“Hope this helps…
“And how are you doing down there, are you in the path of Hurricane Ian?
I told him I was not. “You cashed a bet there,” he said.
I never saw Dave all that often. But I was there on one of his first nights in The Meadowlands press box, sitting next to the encyclopedic Bob Heyden. He introduced himself, we exchanged pleasantries, and said he was proud of the fact that we both were St. John’s alums.
“Hey, Aqueduct was only 20 minutes from the campus and I scheduled early classes so I could make the double. Guess you took some afternoon classes and wound up here,” I said. We had a laugh before he went back to work.
We became e-mail friends with an occasional phone call after that. He visited us several times when he had some time off in the summer and came up to the Saratoga press box to say hello. What a stand-up young man, I remember thinking.
When I told Dan Leary of the United States Trotting Association several years ago that I wanted to give harness racing a presence on HRI, he said “why not give Dave Brower a call? If he has the time I’m sure he’ll be happy to help you out.”
Dave made the time. He never missed a deadline, sending his Meadowlands early-double analysis well in a timely fashion so that we could post his selections at least one day in advance.
When Dave took the occasional vacation, or was away on assignment, he made sure his Meadowlands broadcast partner, Dave Little, would be available to fill the void.
In life, especially in the horse racing business, you can get lucky and meet extraordinary people, not for their expertise, or for their professional success, but as good people, first and foremost. That was Dave Brower.
Early last week, I emailed Dave to thank him for the links to some of the Bulldog’s best 4-year-old performances, for the backstory he provided, explaining he gave me more than I had ever hoped for.
That was Dave, giving more than what was asked. For me, his presence will be a void I could never fill. Flightline and Bulldog Hanover are the real thing. So is the memory of Dave Brower, friend to all he met.
Say hello to Sam McKee for me, Brow. Rest in peace, young man.