Frank and Tom Antonacci are the proprietors of the Crown Carting Company of Flushing, N.Y. In plain words, they are in the business of collecting garbage. With three trucks and six employees, they serve 800 restaurants and food stores. Not a huge operation, as garbage goes, but a good, steady living for two Italian-Americans who scratched up from the streets of New York.
The Antonaccis have another interest, harness racing, and their specialty is driving the sport's established owners bananas by the incredible ease with which they pick off big races. They have only a three-horse stable, featuring a colt lucky even to be walking, but last week they showed up at trotting's premier event, the Hambletonian—and they did it again. On a hot, dusty afternoon in Du Quoin, Ill., the lucky colt, named Speedy Crown, demolished the world's best 3-year-olds in two straight heats, the first being the second fastest (1:57[2/5]) in Hambo history. Maybe it shouldn't have been all that surprising. Two years before, these same Antonaccis—then hooked up with their kinsman Guy Antonacci and other garbage-collecting cousins, the Lomanginos—had knocked off the Hambo in their first try with an animal named Lindy's Pride. Then, as now, their winning driver was an Ohio cowboy named Howard Beissinger.
Last week Frank and Tom Antonacci, along with their bounteous families, came out of the stands in giggling, wiggling numbers and overflowed Victory Lane, collecting $64,885 of the $129,770 purse. "To have one Hambletonian winner was a miracle," said Frank Antonacci, "but to have two in three years—plain people like us—is unbelievable. I think God must be with us."
When Lindy's Pride won in 1969, harness racing gave itself a pat on the back as a truly democratic sport. But in November of that year, after Lindy had swept the top five 3-year-old stakes, the Antonaccis and Lomanginos had a "disagreement over certain aspects of the horse business," as Frank puts it. The Lomanginos bought out the Antonaccis and took over Lindy Farms, while the Antonaccis momentarily dropped out of the sport.
By April 1970, Frank and Tom had decided they missed racing too much, so they paid Beissinger $20,000 for a colt named Headin 'n Heelin. He was named—and bred—by Beissinger, an easy-smiling horseman who would almost as soon be bulldogging steers at rodeos as driving harness horses. The colt was the first foal of the mare Missile Toe, who is owned by Beissinger. His sire, Speedy Scot, won the 1963 Hambletonian for the esteemed Castleton Farm and is a most promising young stallion. The Antonaccis liked everything about the colt except his name, which they changed to Speedy Crown—after their business, of course. Right away they had some bad luck.
"When I sold the colt, he had a little splint about the size of a chestnut below his left knee," Beissinger recalled one morning last week. "The splint began to hurt him about a month after the Antonaccis bought him."
It hurt so much, in fact, that Beissinger called in Dr. William Lee, a Florida veterinarian, to remove it. The operation was successful but rather odd: instead of more normal surgical tools, Dr. Lee used a hammer and chisel to take it off.
Thereafter nobody heard much about Speedy Crown until early this summer, when he won five straight races at Scioto Downs, then three straight at Vernon. He entered the Hambletonian picture last month at The Meadows, when he was parked out an entire race but lost to Castleton Farm's much-touted Hoot Speed by only half a length. "That's when I began to think he had it," said Beissinger.
From there Beissinger and Speedy Crown took an unusual route to Du Quoin's Victory Lane. The colt was not eligible for the big Hambletonian prep races at Springfield, Ill. and Indianapolis. "I was too cheap to nominate him, I guess," said Beissinger. "You can't stake him for all of them unless you're a millionaire."
So while Hoot Speed was winning at both Springfield and Indianapolis, and thereby gathering momentum and support for the Hambletonian, Beissinger had to be content with time trials and workouts. Even when Speedy Crown turned in a hot 1:57[4/5] trial at Indianapolis, many horsemen shrugged. They still had to be shown what he could do under the Hambo's special conditions—two heats or more against top competition under a killer sun.