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Family Business

Trot Feature: Antonacci Family

There are many families in harness racing, but few are committed to success through innovation and growth the way the Antonacci family is.

TROT talks to the people behind Lindy Farms to learn about the vision behind the results. By Debbie Little

Even though a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-two-in-the-bush, Guy “Sonny” Antonacci convinced six of his cousins to take a chance to parlay their success from racing homing pigeons, to Standardbreds.

“They won a bunch of money on homing pigeons and that’s how I think they bought their first horses. I remember they used to race them and they used to gamble a lot on the homing pigeons. We owned them. We raced them. We trained them. We did the whole thing,” said Sonny’s son, Frank “The Elder.”

Just like his dad, Frank prefers to be referred to by his self-coined nickname “The Elder”.

Sonny and his cousins Frank and Thomas Antonacci and Frank, Fred, Joseph and Leo Lomangino, lived in Suffolk County, New York on the southern shore of Long Island, less than 30 minutes from the town of Westbury, and one of their favourite places to go - Roosevelt Raceway.

The cousins formed Lindy Farms, Inc., which according to The Elder’s son, Frank M. Antonacci, paid tribute to their hometown.

“The town that they all lived in was called Lindenhurst. Everything in Lindenhurst is Lindy this and Lindy that, so it was Lindy Farms. And that’s where the name Lindys Pride comes from,” said Frank M.

The Elder remembers Oso Slo and Tarport Lib, a couple of the first good horses Lindy Farms, Inc. owned, but acknowledges that the cousins caught lightning in a bottle very quickly in their ownership career.

“I was at the sale when they bought [Lindy’s Pride] at Harrisburg. It was a great experience. I got to follow the horse a little bit. I was in Kentucky for the Kentucky Futurity and – of course – at Yonkers and Roosevelt. It was fun. It’s always fun to win,” said The Elder, who was 14 years old in 1969, when Lindy’s Pride became a Triple-Crown champion.

According to the USTA’s Trotting & Pacing Guide, “The winner’s circle population for the Kentucky Futurity victory may have set a world’s record, with 41 members of the Lindy Farm (Antonacci and Lomangino families), along with 20 Red Mile directors and press crowding in.”

In the early ‘70s, Sonny moved his family to Connecticut and created Lindy Farms of Connecticut.

“He just wanted a simpler life. He woke up one morning and said ‘I’d like to have a little farm with some horses and breed some horses and move to Connecticut,’ ” said The Elder.

Even though Sonny passed away in 2001, his dream and vision live on at the farm in his sons Jerry and The Elder, as well as his grandchildren.

“I grew up living right on the farm. Actually, the same house that I live in right now with my family, I grew up living in,” said Frank M., 34. In fact, Jerry, The Elder and their families all live on the farm and as their families have grown, so has the farm. That little farm that started out as 20 acres is now about 900.

“They feel this is as good a place to raise one as any place. I think even if we had a farm in Kentucky, I’m not so sure that we wouldn’t raise a lot of the yearlings here in Connecticut because of the soil here and the way the grass is. We give them plenty of room. We have a lot of big fields. Perfect place – I think – to raise one,” said Yearling Manager Rex King.

King has worked at the farm for 20 years and remembers conversations with Sonny about pedigrees.

“Sonny was the best. I was always interested in pedigrees and he was a pedigree guru. I liked being on the farm with Sonny. He knew what he wanted and he knew what pedigree he liked. You always knew you were going to have a good pedigree when you worked for Sonny,” said King.

“They’re not afraid to venture off, like breeding to some of these European horses. We’ve been breeding over there for 20 years almost, and we have mares in Italy.”

“Frank [The Elder] definitely picked some up [from Sonny] plus he studies himself. He studies different crosses and he’s as good as anybody with pedigree.”

The Elder thinks when you’re a horse breeder you have to study pedigrees.

“[My dad] found a way to find good mares for not that much money. I think when you find what I call a generational horse like Highscore Kemp, you have to step up if you can. In my opinion, she has everything that you need to start a family with. Very few of those horses come around,” said The Elder.

They spent $300,000 for Highscore Kemp as a yearling. By Muscles Yankee, Highscore Kemp is out of the O’Brien Award winner, Emilie Cas El, who herself is a Garland Lobell full sister to top trotting sires Andover, Angus and Conway Hall.

As a three-year-old, Highscore Kemp took a mark of 1:51.4 in winning the World Trotting Derby for fillies, and her first two foals are the stakes winners The Perfect Lindy 3,1:55.3f ($65,053) and Lindy The Great 3,1:52.2s ($92,790). She also has a yearling filly by Father Patrick, a weanling by French sire Ready Cash, and is currently in foal to Love You - the same French sire who produced their Goodtimes Stakes and Hambletonian elimination winner, International Moni.

The Elder thinks European horses are a little bit stronger, and thinks it’s a good idea to combine that strength with some American speed.

During his days traveling overseas with Moni Maker, The Elder met J.P. Dubois, whom he now considers a friend. Those European connections have afforded the Antonaccis easier access to breeding to stallions like Love You and Ready Cash.

The Antonaccis have also looked outside the U.S. several times when it came to trainers. Trainer Osvaldo Formia had his first connection with the Antonaccis in 1969. At the time, he worked for Howard Beissinger and was the groom for Lindys Pride. Formia, a native of Argentina, remembers during the 80s, the Antonaccis were using different trainers but wanted to have a trainer work exclusively for Lindy Farms of CT.

“We think to be successful in this business, you have to control as much of the business as possible, and when you give a horse to [outside trainers] it’s their business not your business,” said The Elder.

In 1988, Formia and Norwegian trainer Jorn Kvikstad worked together at the farm and something definitely clicked, because the combination won both the 1989 Hambletonian with Probe and the 1990 Hambletonian with Harmonious.

“They treated me like I was part of the family. I had a lot of respect for them and they had a lot of respect for me,” said Formia, who said his favourite horse to this day is Lindys Pride.

In total, the name Antonacci is connected in partnership with a record five Hambletonian champions.

Their hopes were high this year, with the aforementioned son of Love You - Moni Maker, but after winning his elimination the week prior, the racing Gods were not kind to International Moni in the Hambletonian Final when Victor Gio IT, came over in the first turn and knocked International Moni offstride.

“I was wildly disappointed. I was about 99.9% positive about what had occurred when I was watching it live at the track, and I got confirmation of that once I talked to [trainer] Domenico [Cecere] and [driver] Scott [Zeron]. Yannick [Gingras] apologized to those guys for doing it, but it’s one of those things where apologies just don’t cut it,” said Frank M.

“But we’re past it now. Unfortunately, you never get that day back in a horse’s career, so that’s something that we have to deal with. I just felt that that horse was coming into a spot that he was destined for and it was hard to accept that fact that he wasn’t even going to have a chance to really race for it.

“I think they did the right thing by giving the horse the interference break. My understanding is that they saw enough to think that the horse was interfered with but not enough to place the other horse. Placing doesn’t change the outcome for me. It doesn’t change anything. Anybody that watched the race knows what happened and that’s the best I can ask for.”

The Antonaccis are currently building a farm in Massachusetts near their GreatHorse Country Club in Hampden, which will be called the Farm at GreatHorse. They are also considering expanding to Kentucky in the near future, where The Elder is co-owner of the Red Mile.

As far a being a breeding operation versus being a racing one - once Moni Maker retired from racing, the decision was made that they would never sell any of her offspring. However, as a successful breeding farm it is their job to breed and sell yearlings.

“We bred-and-sold Wild Honey. We bred-and-sold Delicious. We bred-and-sold Snow White. Bred-and-sold Samo Different Day,” said Frank M.

“Actually, most of the horses that end up in the racing stable that we bred, either had serious issues as young horses or something that we kept so we could breed in the future.”

“I think we try to pay attention to detail here,” said The Elder. “We try to give the horses the best feed, the best grooms, the best veterinary care. We have a veterinarian on-staff. The work in the genetics that we do. All the soil is tested. We don’t try to shortcut anything here and we try to breed the best horse there is. We pay attention. Anybody could have, like they say, a factory horse. You take your mare and breed her to a stallion. We have a lot of pride in what we do here and we want to produce the best racehorses in the world.”

The Antonacci approach to the industry extends from the breeding shed to the racetrack, where change and innovation remain top of mind.

Prior the Goodtimes eliminations, at Mohawk, in June, the family made news when it was announced that the driver of International Moni, Scott Zeron, would drive wearing the Lindy Farms colours. But that wasn’t the big news. As opposed to the loose colors that other drivers would be wearing, Zeron’s Lindy colours would be skin-tight to make them more aerodynamic.

Frank M. says he doesn’t need to be an engineer for this suit to make sense to him.

“If somebody wanted to spend the money we could probably go do a study in one of those wind tunnels on what the difference in the drag is between somebody wearing this suit, and a person wearing another suit. And maybe the suit manufacturers should do that,” said Frank M.

“Materials and fabrics change in every sport that we play or compete in, and ours haven’t. Then we saw in the thoroughbred industry that speed silks came out - their version of a more aerodynamic suit. If there’s something out there we can try, let’s try it. Scotty was willing to do it and we did it.

“Quite frankly, if I was a catch driver at [the top] level, I would have one of the suits. They make a living off of fractions of a second. Why would you not get a suit in the best material that you can, that you think would give you any type of advantage possible?”

Frank M. also thinks that it would be an advantage if helmets could be more aerodynamic, and thinks it’s something that helmet manufacturers should look into.

“If you think of the helmets that we wear, when these guys are leaning back, you have a big helmet on that has a bill on the front of it that acts like a wind shield. Something like a luge helmet would make more sense to me,” said Frank M.

“Nothing worthwhile is easy. This is our business. It’s what we do. If we just do what is easy and what everybody else is doing then we’re just the same as everybody else, and that’s not what we’re looking to achieve.”

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