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Remembering Brennan A Year Later

Published: March 10, 2021 1:28 pm ET

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One year after Standardbred horseman John Brennan passed from complications of the novel coronavirus, his absence from the New Jersey and New York harness racing communities remains every bit as glaring as it did in that moment.

On March 10, 2020, Brennan was the first individual from New Jersey to perish from COVID-19, the disease caused by infection with the virus. Since his passing, almost 24,000 more New Jersey residents have followed, and over half a million across the United States. A year after Brennan breathes his last ventilator-aided breath at Hackensack University Medical Center, horsepeople continue to share stories of their interactions with Brennan as a way to preserve his memory — not as a mere statistic, but as the big-hearted gentle giant he was.

“He had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known,” driver Jordan Stratton told Mike Kelly of recently. “He would take his shirt off his back and give it to anybody.”

Brennan, who won 197 races as a trainer before harnessing his last starter in 2009, served as the horsemen's representative for the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, liaising with Yonkers Raceway management on behalf of the trainers and drivers who compete there. And, without a wife or children of his own, the harness racing community became Brennan's family.

“You’ll probably hear this from 10 people — that they consider him their best friend,” said trainer-driver Jeff Gregory. “People looking from the outside might think he was a miserable son of a gun. But the more he busted your chops, the more he loved you. He had a very rough exterior, but he was a kitten on the inside. He was like chocolate candy with a hard covering and a soft, gooey centre.”

Brennan's lasting impact will be recognized with a series of memorial races at Yonkers Raceway this spring, and in June — 15 months after his passing — his family and friends hope to finally hold a proper memorial mass for him at the Long Island parish where he grew up.

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