health

Ailing Boss of Raceway Worker Killed by Virus Waits for Test in Queens

Yonkers Raceway remained dark Wednesday after the coronavirus-related death of a trainer.
Yonkers Raceway remained dark Wednesday after the coronavirus-related death of a trainer. Photo: Virginia Breen/THE CITY

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Queens lawyer and harness horseman Joe Faraldo started feeling ill early last week.

“By Sunday, I couldn’t move,” said Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, noting his temperature had spiked to 101.8 degrees.

“You could’ve wrung out my bedsheets,” he said, “they were so soaking wet.”

He finally went to his primary-care doctor on Monday, who told him he probably had a sinus infection or the flu.

The following morning, Faraldo learned his “right-hand-man,” John Brennan, a horse trainer and the association’s field officer at Yonkers Raceway at Empire City Casino, had died at age 69.

Brennan became New Jersey’s first fatality attributed to coronavirus.

As of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Faraldo, a senior citizen, still had not been tested despite calling state and city health hotlines.

“So I’m a little concerned,” Faraldo told THE CITY by phone between coughs, his voice hoarse.

‘We’re Locked In’

Faraldo spoke from his home in Kew Gardens, where he was awaiting word from either the city Health Department or Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital in Nassau County to tell him where or when he might get tested for the virus.

“Whoever contacts me first, I guess I’ll go there,” he said. “I’ll probably drive myself. Right now it’s just me and the wife. We’re locked in and she’s acting as my nurse.”

Faraldo said he called the state Department of Health Wednesday morning and waited 12 minutes on hold until the operator finally told him to dial 311. When he did so and explained his situation, he was connected to the city’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

Standardbred Owners Association of New York President Joe Feraldo. Photo: Standardbred Owners Association of New York/Facebook

“They asked me a bunch of questions,” he said, “They put me on with a doctor who told me they’d schedule a test for me somewhere in Queens.”

In the meantime, his personal physician contacted the Nassau County Department of Health, which agreed to arrange for Faraldo to be tested at North Shore once the doctor provided the appropriate documentation.

“I’ve been waiting about an hour and a half and nothing yet,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not criticizing anybody here because everyone is in panic mode. Everyone wants to be tested.”

Faraldo downplayed his own risk — “I probably don’t have it” — while grappling with the loss of his trusted colleague and fears that the virus would wreak havoc at the raceway.

He also noted that he had returned from a trip to Mexico late last month without symptoms, and had traveled to Orlando, Fla., for a Feb. 23 banquet at which he received the Stan Bergstein/Proximity Award, an honor judged by the United States Harness Writers Association.

“I have no idea if I had this thing then,” Faraldo said. “But I keep thinking of all the kids that were on the plane.”

‘Larger Than Life’

A Yonkers Raceway paddock judge, the worker who oversees the saddling of horses and supervises their gate set up prior to a race, remains in a hospital intensive care unit, Faraldo said.

A harness driver who returned home out of state also “ended up hospitalized,” he added.

Both almost certainly had contact with Brennan, Faraldo added, though he was not sure either had been tested for coronavirus.

Yonkers Raceway official John Brennan passed away from the coronavirus. Photo: United States Trotting Association

“John Brennan was larger than life, and as big as he was, his heart was even bigger,” Faraldo said, noting that Brennan worked in a small office next to the track and the paddock. “He’d hold court and all the leading drivers and trainers would end up talking to him on a nightly basis.”

Battling a fever and a cough, Brennan initially sought care from his primary care physician, who treated him with Tamiflu and antibiotics. He ended up in Hackensack University Medical Center last Friday, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during a Tuesday news conference.

Brennan was tested for coronavirus the following day on Saturday, and the hospital followed the necessary protocols. He died Tuesday morning, following two heart attacks, Persichilli said.

He had not recently traveled outside the country.

Plans for Memorial

Faraldo kept in contact with Brennan by phone throughout his illness and had last spoken with him on Monday night, hours before he died.

“He kept wanting to come back to work,” Faraldo said.

Brennan’s death prompted MGM Resorts International, which owns the Yonkers racing track, to shutter its gates and ask employees who worked with him to self-quarantine.

In a statement, MGM Resorts said, “We believe the last time he was on the property to be approximately eight days ago. We offer our condolences to his family during this difficult time.”

Asked about reports of other illnesses at the Yonkers track, Brian Ahern, an MGM spokesperson,  referred inquiries into specific cases to the local health department.

“We will continue to coordinate with and follow the guidance of health officials and support them in their response and prevention efforts,” he said in a statement.

A native of Rockaway Beach, Brennan had worked as a steamfitter before he began his career in harness racing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

While he most recently lived in Little Ferry, N.J., Brennan had maintained close ties with the predominantly Irish community of Breezy Point on the Rockaway peninsula. Plans were underway for a memorial service there, Faraldo said.

“If they tell me I’m clean,” he said, “I’ll be there.”

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