From global thinking on training and breeding to its own equine spa complete with generator, Lindy Farms is interested in big picture change, not repeating what others have done.
story by Dave Briggs | photos by Dave Landry
(Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a three-part series on Lindy Farms. The first part was published Sept. 9 and can be read in its entirety here. The series will conclude Sept. 11)
From the beginning, the Antonacci family was casting its gaze beyond New England to foreign lands to help make Lindy Farms of Connecticut a success.
“If you look back from when we first started our private stable, we looked overseas and brought a Swedish guy over. We had an American guy here and that’s how we started our stable,” said Lindy owner Frank “the elder” Antonacci, father of Lindy Farms president Frank M. Antonacci and son of farm founder Guy “Sonny” Antonacci. “And we had early success with Probe and Harmonious and that’s how we had it.”
Frank “the elder” is referring to the back-to-back Hambletonian victories (1989 and 1990, respectively), two of the family’s record five Hambletonian champions. Osvaldo Formia, who hails from one of Argentina’s great racing families, and was once Lindy Farms’ head trainer, conditioned both Probe and Harmonious.
That international spirit continues today with Italian Domenico Cecere heading the racing stable, but it extends far beyond the horses Lindy trains to the breeding itself. Frank “the elder” has long had a passion for introducing French blood into American pedigrees. In 1999, he bred Dream Vacation’s dam, Dream On Victory, to Coktail Jet. Today the process is much easier thanks to frozen semen.
“It just makes common sense that if you can breed our horses to their horses, then possibly you could come up with a superior individual, considering they are two different bloodlines,” Frank “the elder” said. “I’m trying to add a little variety in the pedigree… I think it will produce a superior horse.”
He said the breed is becoming too homogeneous and points to Rubio, a talented two-year-old trotting colt (five-for-seven, $107,292, 1:54.2) as an example of trying to broaden pedigrees. Rubio, who was bred by the Moni Market Breeders (Lindy, several Antonaccis and David Reid), is a son of Cantab Hall out of Moni Market’s French mare Italienne Girl, a mare that was produced by French master horseman Jean Pierre Dubois, a decades-old advocate of mixing French and American pedigrees.
“He looks like he’s going to be a decent horse,” Frank “the elder” said of Rubio, who was purchased for $75,000 by Jimmy Takter last fall at the Lexington-Selected Yearling Sale. “He’s from a mare that maybe not a lot of people understood; not a lot of people understood the pedigree. She’s a sister to really good horses. We took a chance and bred her to a horse that you know is going to have the cleanest gait a modern-day trotter can have — Cantab Hall — and hopefully you get a horse, which has worked out a bit.”
Though it is undeniably more of a hassle to produce horses that mix American and European blood and unconventional pedigrees require more of an educational process and risk being less commercially viable, Frank “the elder” said it was worth the work and risk to try to produce a superstar that will change the breed.
“As an industry we make great horses, it’s just the great horses can come from every single mare out there nowadays. I’m not smart enough to know which mare that’s going to be. But I know that maybe the next great horse that I breed might come from one of these mares bred to a foreign stallion and when that horse comes he’s going to be open to breed every horse in America and the world,” he said.
It’s that kind of global thinking that is common throughout the entire Lindy Farms operation.
In 1993, when Sonny Antonacci built a five-eighths mile track and straight track through the woods at Lindy’s training facility just down the road from its main farm in Somers, CT, he opted for a Euro Track designed with a wood chip base.
“It’s supposed to have a nice cushion. I’m sure all that’s decayed already now,” said Sonny’s grandson, Frank M. Antonacci. “Now it’s kind of settled into a good spot. There’s a lot of clay down in that area. So, it was mostly a clay-sand track for a lot of years. The last six, seven years we’ve been adding local stonedust to make it more all-weather. That combination really has been fantastic. It’s a really good surface now.”
Lindy has some 30 horses in training at it farm and the horses are spoiled with the very best facilities and care — including an impressive equine therapeutic spa that features a cold water Jacuzzi, water treadmill and a vibrating floor under a gigantic heat lamp that can be lowered just above a horse’s back. Farm manager John Belskie said the spa is great for dealing with horses suffering from inflammation and soreness.
“Then, of course, the power can’t be out, so we have a huge generator. You’ve got to keep those horses going,” Belskie said with a smile, pointing out yet another area where the Antonaccis have spent significant dollars to build a first class facility for the horses that have given them so much.
Belskie said many of Lindy’s horses are retired to the farm. Frank “the elder” is fond of saying, “The horses are not like my brother or son, but they’re like a distant aunt or uncle. They’ve given me pleasure and been good to me.”
And so it goes on, from Sonny through his sons Jerry and Frank “the elder” to their children and beyond. Perhaps even a fourth generation is coming to one day operate Lindy Farms. Frank M. has two young sons being raised at Lindy and they already have a pony named Rocky at the training farm.
“He’s a cool little horse. It’s funny,” Frank M. said, laughing, as his brother Phil tells him that Rocky made a bold escape recently when he jumped his stall bungee chord when becoming scared by a leaf blower.
“No way. He jumped?” Frank M. asked incredulously. “Wow. Good for him.”
While the family would love nothing more than to have a fourth generation one day continue on with Lindy Farms, Frank M. said he’s troubled with the direction of the industry on many fronts.
“It goes back to people being professional about their trades, whatever they do,” Frank M. said. “The frustrating part that we have is I think we continually try to elevate the industry and so many people around us don’t treat it with the same kind of business professionalism or personal professionalism. It’s a major negative in our entire industry. People need to start recognizing that people have choices where they invest their money whether it’s for fun or for business… It doesn’t cost you any money to run a clean operation. You don’t need to have all the opulence, but just run a clean operation and wear a pair of pants every once in awhile to the races and treat your trade and yourself with some respect. That would be a nice thing for people to start doing in our industry.”
Frank M. also is critical of tracks that don’t provide a great experience for owners and fans and trainers that don’t take on the role of creating a top-notch experience for their investors.
“More times than not you’re going to lose. How you can make that experience as enjoyable as possible is the challenge,” he said, pointing out that he has taken it upon himself to entertain partners at Lindy Farms, rather than take people to the racetrack.
“I didn’t want the people to necessarily go to the races. We had a family day at our farm and had everybody come to us because I can control that experience. I know I can do a good job at it. I don’t trust the racetracks to do it. They don’t do it the right way and most trainers don’t do it the right way,” Frank M. said. “I make sure that we have a box for Hambletonian Day and invite them and their family and we put out a little bit extra for them and make sure they get a hotel. You’re a concierge, but that’s the business you’re in. In any business, that’s what you have to do for your customers. I don’t think many trainers do that.”
Frank M. said he lives “in today and tomorrow” and his focus is firmly on moving Lindy Farms forward.
Though, clearly, he knows more about the past than he first admits. In the 1989, when Frank M. was six, his family’s trotter Probe — trained by Formia — dead-heated with Park Avenue Joe in the famed “too close to call” Hambletonian. Twenty-seven years later, Frank M. has the evidence that proves Probe —sent postward by Lindy’s Argentinean trainer Osvaldo Formia — won that Hambletonian outright.
But, more on that tomorrow…
Tomorrow, part three: Greathorse and Beyond