All seven men are brothers and cousins, all raised in Brooklyn by immigrant Italian parents. They were on the streets working on ice trucks before they were teen-agers, then on to garbage trucks when they were older and stronger. They struggled together for a long time. "I can remember when I couldn't buy a bottle of milk," said one of them, Frank Antonacci, in the paddock at Yonkers Raceway last Saturday night. "Not one of us was worth $100."
Today, the men who once couldn't afford milk are paying $12,000 a year to keep a horse. They own their own garbage removal companies instead of working on the trucks themselves. Now they can afford to turn down a $300,000 deal for a horse, they can afford to entertain a party of 60 in the plush Empire Terrace at Yonkers and, as of last weekend, they can afford the luxury of thinking seriously about winning harness racing's No. 1 prize, The Hambletonian.
The men—Frank, Fred, Leo and Joseph Lomangino and Guy, Frank and Thomas Antonacci—are the owners of Lindy Farms, Inc. of Lindenhurst, Long Island. Last Saturday night their colt, Lindy's Pride, won the $100,000 Yonkers Futurity, the first race in trotting's Triple Crown. No sooner had Lindy's Pride trotted under the finish line than his owners and their families and friends were pouring out of the stands, laughing, crying, patting each other's cheeks. "The Hambletonian," said Guy Antonacci, "we're going to The Hambletonian. Madonna Mia!"
His victory at Yonkers certainly should move Lindy's Pride past his two main rivals, Gun Runner and Dayan, as The Hambletonian favorite. Gun Runner, who had taken over the role by beating both Dayan and Lindy's Pride two weeks ago, was scratched from last Saturday's race because, said 75-year-old Earle Avery, his disappointed driver and trainer, "I've got a sick horse." Gun Runner's temperature had soared to more than 104° late Saturday afternoon, the result of a virus that had been going around the stables. "Helluva time to get sick, isn't it?" said Avery.
The demise of Dayan was mostly caused by bad racing luck. His trainer-driver, Fred Bradbury, had beaten the virus by keeping Dayan 65 miles away at Goshen during the week. What Bradbury couldn't control, however, was the luck of the draw, which placed Dayan in the second tier of starters, while Lindy's Pride drew the No. 3 spot up front.
"It's ridiculous for one horse to start behind another," fretted Eric Kirstein, who with his father and the colt's breeder, Murray Tobin, owns Dayan in the name of Adonis Stable. "If we're in the front tier we go to the front and it's all over, but leaving from the second tier gives us a problem."
Young Kirstein attempted to offset this disadvantage by showing up in his luckiest mod ensemble: blue Edwardian jacket, red-white-blue scarf, white see-through body shirt, red-white-blue checkered bell-bottoms and white Gucci-style loafers. "I do all right for myself," he said. "Besides horses, I like clothes."
At the start of the race Dayan was behind and between a pair of fillies, Charmette Hanover and Flowing Speed. In the first turn Bradbury may have had a chance to steer Dayan between them and into the lead, but he didn't elect to try. Then Charmette broke stride with Dayan boxed in right behind, and suddenly Bradbury found everyone passing him. When Dayan himself broke stride turning for the half-mile mark, he dropped back to sixth place and was able to move up no higher than fifth at the finish, when he broke stride again.
Meanwhile, Howard Beissinger, the sober Midwesterner who handles Lindy's Pride, moved his colt from second to first at the half-mile mark. From there, with Dayan far back in the pack, it was simply a matter of staying on gait. Lindy did, indicating that the chronic quarter cracks in his hooves have finally healed, and he won, breezing, by 1¾ lengths over The Prophet in 2:03, his best time since his first start in early June.
"He finished within himself," said Beissinger after winning his first $100,000 race in more than 20 years of professional competition. "I never touched him, I never even chirped to him. And he wasn't at his best tonight. If I can just get him 100% right, he'll be a heckuva horse."
The events leading to the relationship between Beissinger and Lindy Farms, Inc. began inauspiciously enough six years ago when Guy Antonacci called his cousin, Frank Lomangino. By that time the brothers and cousins, having collected their resources to buy their first garbage trucks in the early '50s, were operating three private firms out of the Lindenhurst area and were discovering the headaches that come with responsibility—like people calling up in the wee hours to complain about garbage sitting in the driveway. So Guy called Frank with this idea for diversion:
"Let's buy a harness horse," Guy said.
"What's that?" said Frank.
Their first horse, a filly named Heather A., is best written off to experience, but then they bought a colt named Oso Slo from Beissinger. He won $31,412 as a 3-year-old in 1965, and Lindy Farms, Inc. was off and racing. Their big breakthrough came later that year when they bought Tarport Lib, a pacer, for $42,000 at the Harrisburg (Pa.) Sales. She earned $144,013 in her career and became the world's fastest female harness horse when Beissinger drove her in 1:56[2/5] at the Red Mile in Lexington, Ky. in 1966.
Full of confidence in Beissinger, the brothers and cousins paid $15,000 for Lindy's Pride at Harrisburg in 1967, and within months Beissinger told his employers that they had a potential Triple Crown winner. Lindy won $62,781 in 24 starts as a 2-year-old, including 13 victories, and has now earned a total of $133,399, with the big purses just coming up.
"We're still down to earth," said Frank Antonacci last Saturday. "We've all been working since we were 13. We know what a buck is." He paused and allowed himself a tight little smile. "Today," he said, the pride shining through, "there's not a one of us who's not successful. We've been lucky."