Frank “The Elder” Antonacci on the relationships that enriched a Hall of Fame life
Family, horses and business have intertwined to create an impressive legacy for the co-owner of Lindy Farms and his clan.
by Dave Briggs
Frank “The Elder” Antonacci said he didn’t so much fall in love with horses, but rather the relationships horses nurtured. One of his fondest childhood memories was piling into a car with older relatives on trips to the racetrack. It left a deep impression long before two of those relatives, Antonacci’s father “Sonny,” and Sonny’s cousin Frank J. Antonacci, were enshrined in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.
“Growing up on Long Island, we went to racetracks – we had Roosevelt there and we used to go to Liberty Bell and all those other places. I was just a kid. I was maybe 8, 9, 10 years old and I used to get in the car with all these older guys, like my father and his cousins and we’d go to Liberty Bell,” The Elder said. “As a young kid, I was with all those older guys that I idolized, so I’m not sure I fell in love with the horses as much as the situation that I got put into… and the horse was just part of it. The horses were a vehicle to keep me in that realm. Then, of course, you develop relationships and you understand why they like the business so much, why they appreciate the horses so much. From a really young age, it wasn’t the horse, it was the situation.”
For The Elder, those trips to Roosevelt and other harness racing cathedrals along the east coast in the sport’s halcyon days, proved to be the germination of a Hall of Fame life in standardbreds that will be officially recognized tonight (July 2) in Goshen, NY with his induction into the Living Hall of Fame.
Unsurprisingly, family is chief among The Elder’s thoughts as he approaches his induction speech. At the top of the list is his wife, Rebecca.
“My wife has been unbelievable for 30, 40 years, putting up with – though, we don’t do it as much anymore — driving to The Meadowlands at night and coming back at 3 in the morning,” The Elder said.
A close second for The Elder’s deep appreciation is his brother, Jerry. Together, Jerry and The Elder operate famed Lindy Farms based in Somers, CT.
“The [Lindy Farms] training center is at Jerry’s horse. He’s not as visible as I am [in the horse business], but we own the family garbage business and really run the family horse business and golf business [together]. All those things are just different family enterprises. Again, the sum is much greater than all the parts. That’s the attitude we have for all of this.”
Like the horses, the garbage business — officially USA Waste & Recycling — has been good to the Antonacci family, as have a number of other businesses that include the GreatHorse golf course and Sonny’s Place entertainment centre. All of it is intertwined with family and horses.
“I say it all the time, the horse business has made me a better businessman in so many different ways,” The Elder said. “I thank the horses for that. There were certain times that certain horses came along early on in the garbage business. The horse business some years made more money than the garbage business. That was many, many, many years ago, but great times.”
Preferred Equine’s David Reid has been The Elder’s friend and business partner for over 30 years. Reid said The Elder, “has a deep rolodex of friends, but what people that don’t know him as well probably don’t know is how passionate he is about life and people and family. Obviously, from a young age the Antonaccis were instilled to work… They continue to have that old-style work ethic and stress education to move the family and the organization forward. They work hard at it every day.”
Working so closely with family can produce more challenges, but the successes are even sweeter.
“Everybody knows there are challenges in partnerships and family businesses… but we try to bring all the people on the boat along with us,” The Elder said. “We all have a common goal and that keeps us rowing in the right way and looking at the big picture.”
That includes the next generation of family that are active in the businesses. The Antonaccis are the exception to a troubling trend where the heirs of harness racing dynasties often have little interest in carrying on that particular legacy. For the Antonaccis, part of the difference is that important intersection of horses, family and other businesses.
“My three boys and Jerry’s kids are all pretty involved [in the horses],” The Elder said of Guy, Sara, Matthew, Philip, Christopher and Frank M. “The horse business, to us, has been really good. We’ve met a lot of people… You develop different skills and you see successful people all around the world. When the kids see this, I think they like feeing a part of that. I’m very happy that they are all involved.
“We’ve used the resources in the family to really help us in all the industries. We’ve got six great kids here that are involved and we’re all trying to row together. So far, it’s working pretty well.”
MONI MAKER’S PARIS TRIUMPH TOPS THE ELDER’S HIGHLIGHTS
The Elder estimates he’s owned somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 horses in some 50 years in the game.
Despite being a direct part of three of the family’s five Hambletonian winners — Probe, Harmonious, and Victory Dream — campaigning or breeding nine millionaires and winning three Breeders Crowns, one horse racing memory tops The Elder’s list: when Moni Maker defeated the boys in the 1999 Prix d’Amerique in Paris.
“I consider that the best memory… because I think she was the first American horse to do it in 20 years, 25 years. Growing up, I remember those great French mares. For me, [winning the Prix d’Amerique] was better than anything because it was on the world stage. It was really a dream.”
Yet, The Elder — like his wink-worthy, self-proclaimed moniker suggests — has wise perspective on the horse business. He’s more about the future than the past.
“He always says he wants to move forward and not move backward,” Reid said of The Elder. “He says that from a broad sense, not a selfish sense. He likes to see people thrive. He likes to see the industry thrive. He likes to see other breeders do well.”
Part of being forward thinking led The Elder to lead the charge in America to inject more French trotting blood into American bloodlines.
“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,” The Elder told HRU in 2016.
“I’m trying to add a little variety in the pedigree, so that a guy comes here and says, ‘Listen, I go and buy all these Muscle Hills and they’re all the same, but if I buy this horse and this is the only pedigree in America that might have this, and this is a significant family that produces racehorses, I might have a chance to have a better horse.’”
LOOKING FORWARD, NOT BACK
A steward of the sport, The Elder has served as a trustee of the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame since 2011 and as a director of the Hambletonian Society since 1993. He was a director of the U.S. Trotting Association from 2001 to 2019.
But the propensity to look forward is the main reason The Elder was so passionate about investing in both the Red Mile and the building of the new grandstand at The Meadowlands.
“The Meadowlands, it was a rough time and Jeff [Gural] stepped up and did most of the deal,” The Elder said. “We just thought that it was important for us to participate on a higher level, which we did, and we’re happy that we did that.
“[Buying] the Red Mile was Bill Perretti, who was a great visionary, but a poor leader. He had to get out of there and it went from five or six different [ownership] groups to three or four different groups now. To tell you the truth, we’ve really never had a bad meeting with those other guys. I think Joe Thomson realizes how important the place is. George [Segal] for sure realized it and I think we realize it.”
With historical racing machines long in place and sports betting coming to Kentucky later this year, The Elder believes big things are in store for the beloved Lexington, KY racetrack.
“With just a few more tweaks, we can become The Meadowlands in the south. I think we could have a big simulcasting signal and we can go to the next level down there, which is really kind of my vision.
“We’re building a new paddock this year… It’s kind of modelled after some of the thoroughbred paddocks. It will be a free-range paddock and hopefully the fans can walk in there and see the horses. It will be a nice thing for the meet.
“We’re trying to make little incremental steps and trying to get a sustainable model so the next generation — the trusts and the estates that will end up owning the racetrack — will have a sustainable model.”
And there it is again — the intersection of horses and family and business that made The Elder a Hall of Famer.