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Garbage, grit and the Hambletonian miracle
William F. Reed
September 13, 1971
In the continuing saga of New York's Antonacci family, which used a sanitation biz as the springboard to victory in the 1969 trotting classic, they again invoke some lofty assistance, reinvade Du Quoin—and win!
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September 13, 1971

Garbage, Grit And The Hambletonian Miracle

In the continuing saga of New York's Antonacci family, which used a sanitation biz as the springboard to victory in the 1969 trotting classic, they again invoke some lofty assistance, reinvade Du Quoin—and win!

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Last Wednesday Du Quoin awoke to overcast skies, but around noon the sun blazed out. Among the early racegoers were Janna Spear and Phil Bersinger, a pair of 18-year-old Californians who had won an expenses-paid trip to the Hambletonian by virtue of their Aug. 9 appearance on TV's The Dating Game. Asked how she liked Du Quoin in comparison with, say, Hawaii or the Bahamas, Janna smiled bravely and said, "Oh, the people are great but—ugh—I don't like the humidity." Which is more, probably, than Karen and Rich Carpenter could say. At their Tuesday night performance at Du Quoin's fair, the popular singers quit in the middle of their last number and walked off the stage. Seems they were a bit miffed because many of the farm folks in the crowd began to leave. The Carpenters obviously never had to milk cows.

Unaccustomed to multiple miracles, the experts looked for a wide-open race, no fewer than four of the nine starters having trotted miles in two minutes or less. It was a bookie's dream, entirely in the mind, of course, because bookies and totes and such are forbidden at Du Quoin. In the old days, or so legend has it, there was a man who hung around the lobby of the antiquated St. Nicholas Hotel in downtown Du Quoin. He was noted for two things. One was writing obscene poetry. The other was making book on the Hambo. Had he been doing his thing last Wednesday, he probably would have made Speedy Crown and Hoot Speed co-favorites.

The owners made a most unlikely match-up. Hoot Speed (also a son of Speedy Scot) trots for one of the most prestigious operations in the sport. Castleton Owner Frederick Van Lennep is tall, elegant, rich and powerful. The Castleton empire consists of three farms—1,000 and 800 acres in Kentucky and a 900-acre spread in Florida. In addition Van Lennep runs racetracks in Florida and Michigan, not to mention a Florida dog track. Last week he and his family glided into Du Quoin in a large, lavish, customized bus.

In the first swift heat of the Hambo, Hoot Speed challenged pace-setting Speedy Crown from the half-mile mark to the top of the stretch but broke stride and faded back to eighth. In the second, Hoot raced gamely near the front for three quarters and finally finished a well-beaten third. In the overall standings, Hoot Speed was fourth, preceded by the Billy Haughton-driven A.C.'s Orion and Savoir, Jimmy Arthur driving.

Speedy Crown's margin of victory the first time around was an easy three lengths, and in the second, when the humidity deflated some of his rivals, his superb condition paid off. He came back fit and strong to win by 2� lengths in 1:58[1/5]. "My horse trotted real well," said Jimmy Arthur, "but Speedy Crown was the best today." Some thought he might become one of the best ever. "I've never seen a colt who could trot more than this one," said Delvin Miller, the owner-breeder-driver-trainer who is harness racing's most conspicuous personality. Miller, a sometime reindeer driver—he claims West Germany's Gerhard Kruger blind-sided him into a Swedish ditch during an exhibition of Santa-class trotters one memorable day—added a little international tang to Victory Lane by presenting a Scandinavian rune stone to Beissinger. This was a modern tablet carved in the primitive manner of authentic stones, and on it was an invitation to the winner to race in Stockholm. Kruger himself was at Du Quoin behind an American-bred, Italian-owned colt, Top Hanover, which finished seventh in a field of nine.

Beissinger, not a man to brag, allowed that Speedy Crown was "as good" as Lindy's Pride. On the track Beissinger had been entirely confident, cutting out all the pace in both heats.

"Hoot Speed just wasn't right today," said the colt's trainer-driver, Glen Garnsey, who was sorely disappointed. So was Van Lennep. After the Hambletonian he was in the bus, discussing the race with friends.

"By the way," said one, "what business are those people in?"

"Garbage," replied Van Lennep. "I understand there is good money in garbage."

Meanwhile, the Antonaccis were putting on their cast-of-thousands act at a party given by Bill Hayes of the Du Quoin trotting dynasty. The adults sipped champagne, except for Frank, who toasted the victory with orange soda. All the little Antonaccis—Frank and Tom married sisters in 1949 and now each has four children—hovered around the hors d'oeuvres table. Pretty Francine, 19, one of Frank's children, was worried. She had told her boss she was sick so she could get to the race, and she wondered if she might be fired.

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