HALL OF FAME WELCOMES CLASS OF 2023
Goshen, NY — A crowd of more than 250 people gathered Sunday evening (July 2) at the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame to celebrate the induction of the Hall of Fame class of 2023.
Owner/breeder/executive Frank Antonacci, trainer Per Eriksson and driver Lucien Fontaine headlined the group, which was honored during the annual induction dinner on the Museum lawn.
Also inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday were immortals Charlie Coleman, Dr. Gordon Gilbertson, Ira Malott, Margot Taylor, Edward Willis, Adios Scarlet and Exciting Speed. The Living Horse Hall of Fame welcomed 2017 Horse of the Year Hannelore Hanover and 2018 Horse of the Year McWicked, broodmares My Little Dragon and Road Bet, and stallion Yankee Glide.
Going into the Communicators Hall of Fame were racing writer Bob Roberts and Meadowlands Racetrack announcer Ken Warkentin.
Frank Antonacci (left) and Per Eriksson (right) were honored during the annual induction dinner. USTA/Mark Hall photo.
Antonacci, known as “Frank The Elder,” is a second-generation member from one of harness racing’s most famous and successful families and joins his father, Guy “Sonny,” and uncle Frank in the Hall of Fame. Both were inducted in 2000.
The family’s Lindy Farms and its affiliates have had four Hambletonian winners — Lindy’s Pride (1969), Probe (1989), Harmonious (1990) and Victory Dream (1994) — and campaigned two-time Horse of the Year Moni Maker.
Antonacci and his brother, Jerry, have either bred or owned multiple millionaires and world champions over the years. The Antonaccis also were influential in bringing European breeding to the U.S., most notably today with their homebred stallion International Moni, a son of French sire Love You and Moni Maker.
In addition, Antonacci has been a partner in the Red Mile and Tattersalls Sales Co., a trustee of the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame since 2011, a director of the Hambletonian Society since 1993, and a past director of the U.S. Trotting Association.
Lindy Farms was honored in 2021 with the Stan Bergstein-Proximity Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association and is a past recipient of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation’s Service to Youth Award.
“I’m not going to give much of a speech here tonight because I don’t think I could get through it,” Antonacci said. “So, lucky for you guys. But I do have a speech. If you look in your program, there is a QR code because I don’t think I could get through my speech. So, please go look at the QR code. It’s about 12 minutes. It’s on page 53.
“When you’ve got 12 minutes in the bathroom, please listen to it,” said Antonacci with a laugh.
Swedish-born Eriksson was 24 years old when he trained his first Hambletonian winner, Prakas in 1985. In a span of seven years, he trained two more winners of the sport’s premier race for 3-year-old trotters: Giant Victory in 1991 and Alf Palema in 1992. He is one of 12 trainers with at least three Hambletonian trophies in the race’s nearly 100-year history. All 12 are now in the Hall of Fame.
Prakas, Giant Victory and Alf Palema all were named Trotter of the Year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association in their Hambletonian-winning seasons.
Eriksson, who came to the U.S. in 1981 to work as a caretaker and returned to Sweden in 2001 to raise his family, also captured nine Breeders Crown trophies during his career in the States, a total that still ranks tied for seventh among trainers in the history of the event.
Other notable victories for Eriksson included the 1995 Hambletonian Oaks with Lookout Victory and triumphs in the Kentucky Futurity, Yonkers Trot, and World Trotting Derby.
He was voted Trainer of the Year in 1991 by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
“My QR code is on page 52, thank you,” Eriksson said to laughter as he began his acceptance speech.
“I’m honored to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and to be here with our family means a lot,” he then continued. “These 20 years in America made me who I am today. America is where my family was made, where our children were born, and (my wife) Tina and I forever will be thankful for American harness racing.”
Fontaine, who passed away in September at the age of 83, just two months after his Hall of Fame selection, was a groundbreaking catch-driver who got his first win in 1960.
Beginning in 1965, the man known as “Loosh” put together a 15-year run among the top 20 drivers in North American purse earnings, with 10 seasons in the top 10. He also was among the top 20 drivers in wins 11 years. His career high came in 1968 when he posted 264 victories, the sixth-best single-season total in North American history at the time.
Fontaine retired at the age of 49 because of a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery, but not before accumulating 3,458 wins and collecting multiple driving titles at Yonkers Raceway. He also was a two-time champ at Monticello and perennially among the top drivers at Roosevelt.
He is best remembered for campaigning Forrest Skipper to a perfect 15-for-15 season in 1986 that resulted in Horse of the Year honors. Fontaine’s son, Marc, trained the 4-year-old pacing stallion for owner Forrest Bartlett.
Marc Fontaine was unable to attend the ceremonies, so Bob Boni accepted on behalf of the family.
“(Lucien) was a great horseman, and in addition to being a great horseman, and always a gentleman, he was also a strong advocate for horsemen,” Boni said. “I think this would be an extremely proud moment for him. Everybody knows what he’s accomplished. I think the Hall of Fame is adding a real champion and a real star.”
Previously, Marc Fontaine said about his father, “It’s very gratifying and satisfying to see him finally making it (to the Hall of Fame). He didn’t race to become in the Hall of Fame, but he worked very hard and was very successful. We’re happy to see it recognized.”
- Ken Weingartner, USTA
For the replay of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, click this link.