Hightstown, NJ — Mark Ford was a guest on the ESPN “In the Gate” podcast produced and hosted by Barry Abrams. Ford discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on harness racing, particularly the deaths of John Brennan and four members of the Fusco family, including trainers Carmine and Vincent.
Ford, a trainer with more than 3,900 wins, is on the U.S. Trotting Association Board of Directors and president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey. He was a close friend of Brennan and the Fuscos and shared his thoughts about their passing as a result of COVID-19.
Followed are excerpted comments, edited for clarity and length, from the podcast.
Ford said he talked with Brennan in the hospital the day before his passing on March 10. Brennan also was a USTA director and on the board of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. He was the horsemen’s representative at Yonkers Raceway.
“It really put things into perspective and it really shook me up because he was such a dear friend,” Ford said. “He was such a dear friend to the industry, too. John was always there to fight for the horsemen. He was not only a real good friend, but a really, really good guy. We’ll certainly miss him.
“He didn’t have a big family, he didn’t have any kids, but he spent a lot of time with the horsemen and more or less adopted a lot of their kids. He had lots and lots of friends around.
“When I first came to New York, he was one of the first people that you met on the backstretch. He always had, not a big stable, but 10 or 12 (horses) all the time and was always there. He was just a good guy and it’s a terrible shock.”
Ford said the passing of Carmine Fusco as well as Vincent, their mother Grace and sister Rita, was a devasting blow for a family that was almost synonymous with Freehold, N.J.
“You can’t imagine Freehold, N.J., without the Fusco family,” Ford said. “It’s one thing to lose a member of their family, they’re very tight-knit … (but) now, you lose Carmine and his mother and sister and it just keeps going. Vinny was another one. They’re New Jersey horse people that have been around forever, you don’t ever expect them to be anywhere else.
“You look around, it’s hard to believe that Carmine Fusco is not going to be here anymore, or five or six of the people we deal with, literally on a daily basis, aren’t going to be here anymore. It’s just devastating.
“How do you understand this? It wipes out a big part of your population and they’re all good friends too. Personally, it’s been a terrible week. Life must go on, but it’s not going to be near as easy as it was.”
He added about the impact to the harness racing community, “This has happened so fast. I know that it’s been two weeks now since it’s happened, but people are walking around in a daze. It’s just rocked our whole world. It’s one thing to cancel the racing, where none of us have any income, but this is real.
“With this stuff, it could be one of us tomorrow. People I’m sure didn’t take this very seriously at all, or maybe they’re still not taking it seriously enough, but these are things we have to deal with. This is a tremendously big deal because it could be anyone of us tomorrow or the next day. It’s serious stuff and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it yet.”
To listen to the “In the Gate” podcast in its entirety, click here.