Philip Antonacci off to fast start at Saratoga

The young thoroughbred trainer from a harness racing family has won his first two races at The Spa.

by Bill Finley

The Antonacci name and the Lindy Farms operation may symbolize excellence in standardbred racing, but that means little on the backstretch of Saratoga Race Course during the sport’s premier thoroughbred meet. Philip Antonacci wants to change that.

Back in 2020, Antonacci, whose Hall of Fame father, Frank (The Elder) Antonacci, is co-owner of the powerful Lindy Farms operation, decided he wanted to train thoroughbreds. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. He was in his mid-twenties at the time, had little experience with that breed, and, even though Lindy would supply him with some horses, he didn’t have the backing off a major thoroughbred outfit. And there were the expected growing pains. He went 3-for-28 in 2021, his first full year as a trainer.

But the now 28-year-old trainer persevered and vowed to continue to work hard, and it looks like his efforts are paying off. Philip won with his first two starters at this year’s Saratoga meet, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that can open doors for a young trainer.

“There are people who will take shots with a young trainer and when you have success at big meets like Saratoga things can snowball,” Philip said. “It was a good way to start. A lot of it is timing. A lot of our horses were in good condition and in good form. We ship horses up from Florida and sometimes it takes them a little while to get going. I’m happy they ran to their form and that things came together over those two days.”

Philip got his first winner on opening day of the meet, sending out Monet Never to a win in a maiden special weight race on the grass. He struck again two days later with Thundara, the winner of a $40,000 maiden claimer.

“The start we’ve gotten off to is very gratifying,” he said. “When you get a couple of winners like that there’s no better feeling in the world. There are a lot of days where it’s hard work for your whole team and it’s great to see it all come to fruition.”

As has been the case from the start, Philip’s team includes Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter. When Philip started out the two were considered co-trainers. Takter has stepped back some but is still involved in the operation.

“Jimmy is an advisor,” Philip said. “We talk every day about certain horses and he’s a good sounding board for me to tell him what I am seeing. He’s had years and years of experience and has a lot of good advice. He’ll listen to me, then tell me not to worry about certain things. When you go through ups and downs, he has a good way of making things level out. He comes by the barn once every couple of weeks, but we stay in touch daily.”

It’s not just Takter. While it has taken time, Philip has surrounded himself with a good team.

“We were a new operation and we came in starting from scratch,” Philip said. “When you do like we did and when you don’t have a legacy to follow or a father that was a trainer, it takes a little bit of time to build your team. It took two, three years for us to get the right people around us to make sure we had all the right pieces and we could get enough quality horses that we could deliver results. We’re starting to see it now. You win here in Saratoga and you get a lot of exposure and I think that can help you get rolling.”

Monet Never is owned by Lindy Farms and David Reid’s Ice Wine Stable. Lindy is the sole owner of Thundara. Philip said that about half his horses are owned by Lindy. He has 15 stalls at Saratoga and says his barn is made up of a mix of 2-year-olds, allowance horses and claimers. There are another six horses residing at Lindy Farm in Somers, CT, which is also the home of the Lindy standardbred operation. He said that the Lindy farm in Connecticut is in the process of being upgraded with the goal of turning it into a top-class thoroughbred farm that can serve as a satellite facility while Philip is stabled at place likes Saratoga and Belmont Park. The Lindy team recently installed a seven-furlong wood chip track for the thoroughbreds to train over.

While things are heading in the right direction for Philip, he hopes to build on recent success and attract more owners and better horses. In an effort to do so, he tries to go the extra mile to keep his clients informed.

“I think the owners enjoy the experience we give them,” he said. “There’s a lot of communication and we give them a lot of updates. We send them videos every week. We are a boutique operation and I think that’s one of our selling points to owners, that we provide a level of detail and communication that you may not get from the trainers who have the huge numbers.”

The major thoroughbred yearling sales are right around the corner and Philip said he hopes to be active. It’s all part of the process, to get a little bit bigger and better every day.

“We’re seeing some owners reach out to us and saying they’ll be giving us horses,” he said. “Hopefully, we can go to the sales and get some quality stock for next year. I’d like to keep growing every year. We want to get quality owners and quality horses and continue to deliver on the big stage and get the best out of all our horses. We’re working on developing the farm in Connecticut and that can only help.”

Philip won’t be the leading trainer in Saratoga or anywhere close. That’s never been the plan. The goal was to show the sport that he belongs here, that he can come away from the toughest thoroughbred meet in the country with five or six winners. It looks like he’s on his way.