Lindy Farms of Connecticut is not only one of harness racing’s great farms, it is a forward-thinking, third-generation operation built by the Antonacci family with equal parts passion, practicality and pride.
story by Dave Briggs | photos by Dave Landry
(Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a three-part series on Lindy Farms that will continue Sept. 10 and 11)
The sun has yet to crest the horizon and illuminate the full magnificence of the octagon-shaped barn at the main entrance to Lindy Farms, but the impact of the soaring ceiling crisscrossed by thick Douglas Fir beams isn’t diminished much in the pre-dawn light. This equine cathedral — with three exquisite shedrows branching off from it — is just steps from the parking area at Lindy’s main farm. That the octagon makes an indelible first impression is no accident, but it speaks as much to the Antonacci family’s practicality as it does to its strict belief in doing everything first class and providing esthetics that are good for the soul.
“This barn we built in 1999 when the original barn got hit by lightning and burnt down. This was one of the last projects Sonny Antonacci worked on was designing this barn,” said farm manager John Belskie, referring to farm patriarch Guy “Sonny” Antonacci who started Lindy Farms in 1972 and died in 2001 at the age of 71. “He wanted it to look nice, but it also had to be very functional. A lot of times when you go to farms and are looking at yearlings you’re stuck down an aisle, you’ve got a lot of people looking at a yearling and you can’t really see it. He wanted somewhere that you brought the horse. You sit here in the octagon, we flip on the lights and prospective buyers can walk all around and check it all out.”
You see that class, beauty and functionality everywhere Belskie takes you while acting as an affable tour guide of the some 900 acres the mostly standardbred operation has on some eight parcels of land in and around the bucolic Connecticut town of Somers (pop. 12,000) in the northern part of the state.
“I was at a town meeting this past Wednesday night. Whenever I walk in there they call me the Town of Somers Open Land Preservation Department,” Belskie said, laughing. “They don’t have one, but the Antonaccis are essentially it because they buy land that could potentially be developed into houses and put up horse fencing. The town loves that.”
This is, after all, a pretty little New England town where some residents recently took up a fight to stop a new gas station from opening on Main Street lest it spoil the Rockwell-esque vibe.
It is the morning before the Hambletonian, which is something of a holy day at Lindy Farms. The Antonacci family, with other partners, holds the record for owning the most Hambletonian winners with five — Lindy’s Pride (1969), Speedy Crown (1971), Probe (1989), Harmonious (1990) and Victory Dream (1994).
Apart from the Hambletonian victories, the family also has the unpleasant distinction of finishing second in the Hambletonian six times since 1991 — with MB Felty (in 1991 won by Giant Victory) Lindy Lane (1996, Continentalvictory), Cantab Hall (2004, Windsong’s Legacy), Chocolatier (2006, Glidemaster), Crazed (2008, Deweycheatumnhowe) and Lucky Chucky (2010, Muscle Massive).
“When you think about all the seconds, it’s actually an incredible number,” said Frank M. Antonacci, president of Lindy Farms and another prime reason the farm stands out in the industry. Frank M. is young — he will turn 33 on Sept. 28 — passionate and a third generation Antonacci interested in enhancing the farm, not shuttering it, bucking a troubling industry trend in which heirs increasingly show disinterest in the horse industry. His younger brother, Phil Antonacci, is one of two assistant trainers on the farm — Patrizio Ancora is the other — that work under head trainer and racing manager Domenico Cecere.
Incredibly, Lindy’s Pride was the first horse purchased by Sonny and his cousins Frank and Tommy Antonacci and Fred, Frank, Leo and Joseph Lomangino. Lindy’s Pride also won the other two legs of the trotting Triple Crown and, naturally, the family was hooked. In large measure, Lindy’s Pride led to all this — the sweeping vistas that explode like nature’s fireworks every autumn, the equine spa where horses get the very best in high-tech therapeutic care; the European-style training oval and straight track through the New England woods; the green waves of paddocks dotted with faraway mares and the miles and miles and miles of, mostly, vinyl white fencing that delights the family but makes Belskie grumble about the extra hassle required to keep it clean.
“Everyone thinks the vinyl is a low-maintenance type of fence, but we’re up here constantly and instead of us replacing boards or taking the paint machine out, we have to take power washers and water out to the back 40 trying to clean it,” Belskie said shaking his head.
In truth, it’s a rare and minor complaint from a man that started working for Lindy some 23 years ago when the operation was all of about 20 acres and was home to just a few horses.
“The family owned broodmares all over the place, but they were boarded out. So, they wanted to build a farm and bring them all home,” Belskie said.
Nearly a quarter-century later, Lindy is home to some 220 horses and Belskie is standing beside the paddock where the great Moni Maker served out her retirement until her death in 2014 at the age of 21. The paddock is adjacent to a house on the hill featuring a sweeping view down to the training track and beyond. The house is owned by Jerry Antonacci, one of Sonny’s two sons; the other is Frank “the elder”, Phil and Frank M.’s father.
“Being here as Lindy has grown over the years from what we started with and seeing it now is unbelievable. On clear days, you can see Hartford out that way and Springfield, Massachusetts out behind us,” Belskie said, pointing south and then north on the horizon. For the record, Springfield is more than 10 miles away and Hartford is more than 20.
Living and working at Lindy Farms clearly has its benefits.
“I like coming out in the morning, out behind the main farm,” Belskie said, his voice softening. “You go in those fields way out and you look back at the barn and it’s just quiet, nice, beautiful views and views that not a lot of people get to see if they’re not walking out there.”
Lindy Farms has come a very long way in the nearly 45 years since the Antonaccis moved to Connecticut from Lindenhurst, New York, on Long Island — the town that was the inspiration for the name of Lindy’s Pride and, later, the farm — and started a sanitation company that today is the family’s main business. USA Hauling and Recycling, is one of New England’s largest independently owned and operated waste management companies.
Through it all, Lindy Farms long has been a prime diversion and passion.
Belskie said Sonny Antonacci was fond of having people up to the farm and surprising them with the sheer scope and beauty of the place.
“He used to have this old station wagon and he had his German Sheppard and the people would say, ‘This place is beautiful. It’s just like Kentucky.’ And he’d say, ‘It’s better than Kentucky’ and then he’d turn and walk away.”
To be fair, you can’t blame some visitors for being gobsmacked by Lindy. New England is a little off the usual standardbred path, which makes the scope and richness of this operation all the more impactful.
Yet, it turns out Lindy Farms is just the beginning of an ever-expanding family empire built on looking forward.
Tomorrow, part two: The Lindy Way