With Hall of Famer Takter By His Side, Antonacci Turns to Training

Jimmy Takter | Triscari Web and Video Marketing photo

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When Philip Antonacci begins his training career later this year, he won't be just any rookie. The 25-year-old who has worked for a number of top trainers has enlisted legendary Standardbred trainer Jimmy Takter to assist him in what Antonacci describes as a partnership between the two.

Antonacci's family operates Lindy Farms, one of the most prominent breeding and racing operations in standardbred racing. Lindy has branched out in recent years and now operates a modest sized thoroughbred operation, which Philip, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, has helped manage. It has long been his desire to go into training thoroughbreds and Takter was looking for new challenges in his life. That's what brought the two together in what Antonacci calls a “perfect marriage.”

Antonacci has secured 15 stalls at Payson Park and plans on running his first horse at the Gulfstream championship meet. The horses will run under his name and he will handle many of the day-to-day chores, including the administrative duties. But Takter will play a major role, to the point where the two could be called co-trainers.

“Philip is a very bright young man, he has been all over and his background is in this sport,” Takter said. “But he has never had a stable of his own before. That's where I can help him. I will be his wing man.”

Takter stunned the harness racing world when, toward the end of 2018, he announced his retirement. Just 58 at the time, he said he was having a hard time getting motivated. After spending much of the first year of retirement traveling with his wife Christina, he found that something was missing.

“You miss the horses,” he said. “Horses have been my life. It's so important to me to be around horses I really began to miss them.”

Takter was born in Sweden, where his father Bo William Takter was a top trainer. Just 22 at the time, he made the move to the U.S. in 1982 and started out with a small stable made up largely of claimers. But it wasn't long before he had become one of the leading trainers in the sport. In 1996, he earned his first of six trainer of the year awards and a year later he won his first of four Hambletonians with Malabar Man. His next big star was Moni Maker, the 1998 and 1999 Horse of the Year who won major races all over the globe, in the U.S., France, Sweden, Canada and Denmark.

Takter has dominated the Breeders Crown, harness racing's version of the Breeders' Cup, winning 34 races in the series. In 2015 at Woodbine, he won six Breeders Crown races and finished second with four other horses with his stable earning $2.69 million that night. It was nights like that led to him being inducted into three halls of fame, the U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2012, the Hall of Fame at the Nordic Trot Museum in Sweden in 2019 and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2019.

“Simply put, Jimmy Takter is one of the great horsemen in the world,” Antonacci said. “He has a completely unique connection with the horses and his stats speak for themselves. Four Hambletonians, six Hambletonian Oaks, 34 Breeders Crowns, those are unfathomable statistics. He is one of those guys who, even though he was so successful every year, was always looking to make changes or modify something that would give him an advantage moving forward. He is a fast learner and is someone who can adapt.”

Takter could have returned to harness racing and would have had no problem rebuilding a powerhouse stable, but he was looking for a new challenge.

“Training thoroughbreds is something I always wanted to do and something I always wanted to explore,” he said. “It will be a new game for me. It's a good time to do this now.”
It remains to be seen if Takter's harness racing acumen will transfer to thoroughbred racing. But he sees one important similarity between training a standardbred and a thoroughbred. To be successful with either one, you must have be able to get them into peak condition while also keeping them healthy.

“I am a great conditioner of standardbreds,” he said.. “I know they are totally different horses but you have to condition these horses. The main thing is to build up a strong horse and you have to try to figure out a way to develop them without any injuries.”

Another key to success, he said, is to develop a horse mentally.

“I'm a strong believer that the mind of a horse is very important,” he said. “The thoroughbreds are more hyper and stronger animals. You have to work on their minds and build then as strong as possible in that area, as well.”

Antonacci's older brother Frank was, until recently, the head standardbred trainer for Lindy farms and Philip spent many a summer tagging along with him to major harness races. But his main focus would become the thoroughbreds, which led him to work for Wesley Ward, Todd Pletcher, Gai Waterhouse and Mark Johnson.

After graduating from Penn, Antonacci completed the Godolphin Flying Start course, the prestigious two-year racing industry management training program. His first job out of the program was for Dave Reid's Preferred Equine Marketing as its Thoroughbred Sales and Bloodstock Executive, a role he will retain from his Florida base.

Ward currently trains most of the thoroughbreds for the Antonaccis and will keep those horses. Philip Antonacci's stable will largely be made up of yearling purchases made by the Antonacci-Takter team. On Thursday, they made their first purchase, buying a Hard Spun yearling colt for $42,000 at the Fasig-Tipton sale. Takter weighs in on the conformation of the yearlings but leaves the pedigree analysis up to Antonacci.

At the start, the Antonacci-Takter team won't have the type of firepower Takter had when training harness horses. They want to keep the stable small and say that their owners aren't the types to spend lavishly at the sales. But Takter is not doing this to be part of a stable that operates in obscurity. Always brimming with confidence, Takter is setting lofty goals.

“To win a Triple Crown race or a Breeders' Cup would be a huge step forward,” Takter said. “I understand you need the material for that. But I'm not going into this just to participate. I am going into it to try to compete. Of course, it is our goal to compete in those big races.”

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