dominic h. frinzi, jr.
Dominic H. Frinzi Jr., president of Harness Horsemen International for more than a quarter of a century and one of the Standardbred industry’s most vociferous supporters, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 27, 1921. His father, an Italian immigrant who ran a meat market, spoke several languages, and loved opera, gave his son the middle name Henry, the English translation of Enrico, in honor of the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. Frinzi inherited his father’s passion for opera and would go on to amass one of the country’s largest private collections of operatic recordings.
As a young man, Frinzi spent several years studying to become a Roman Catholic priest but changed his mind shortly before his ordination. Instead he decided to study law at Marquette University. While he was a student, he taught undergraduate courses in philosophy and English and also taught business law at a mortuary science school. After graduating in 1951 he specialized in criminal law and later handled civil cases (personal injury and negligence). Among the notables Frinzi represented were serial killer Ed Gein and Frank Balistrieri, a local organized-crime boss. He also waged a highly publicized battle with the new owners of baseball’s Milwaukee Braves, preventing them from changing the team’s name to the Atlanta Braves before the organization relocated to that city. A “take-charge guy” with many political connections, Frinzi unsuccessfully ran for governor of Wisconsin in 1964 and 1966 on the Democratic ticket. He also served a term as commissioner in the Milwaukee County circuit court.
Frinzi’s exposure to harness racing didn’t occur until he was middle-aged. He was in his fifties when he began to attend races at Aurora Downs and Balmoral Park in Chicago; and although he enjoyed handicapping, it was reported that he was never really good at it. In 1974 Bill McEnery, a veteran Illinois horseman, sold Frinzi his first horse, the one-eyed Shanty’s Pride p,6,2:01.3f ($108,727), whom he owned in partnership with trainer-driver Jim Dolbee. His first few races were a disaster, but the horse eventually won eleven starts that year before being claimed. Among the other horses he campaigned were Montana p,7,2:01f ($133,931) and Mr. Big B p,4,2:01.3 ($126,142). In the late 1970s Frinzi raced with moderate success at the Illinois tracks and Louisville Downs in Kentucky.
Frinzi was elected to the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association (IHHA) board of directors in 1976. Later that year the organization named him its Harness Horsemen International (HHI) delegate in a joint effort with the American Horse Council to lobby in Washington, D.C. for passage of federal legislation. HHI had been founded in 1964 to address the specific needs of horsemen as there was no national or international organization serving that purpose. The 1976 joint effort led to passage of the Interstate Horse Racing Act, which enabled horsemen to approve or veto interstate off-track betting and simulcasting. This marked the first time a horsemen’s group had ever exerted pressure in Washington for passage of a law.
In 1982 Frinzi became president of Harness Horsemen International and served in that position until his death 26 years later. He was also a member, for approximately two decades, of the Racing Committee of the American Horse Council, which was the voice of the horse industry in Washington, D.C. In addition to being a strong advocate of horsemen’s interests, Frinzi believed that harness racing should not divide itself into categories such as track owners, drivers, breeders etc., but that the various factions should come together for a common purpose. He encouraged dialogue rather than shut-downs and strikes, and he fostered a closeness among the various associations (USTA, HTA, HHI) and racing commissioners. He made himself available to horsemen’s groups throughout the country and represented them in landmark legal cases and negotiating sessions without monetary compensation. On occasion his insights were even sought by management.
Frinzi was also involved in many community activities and in local and national organizations. He was a member of the Milwaukee County committee that allocated funds to the arts and was a past president of UNICO, a service organization that funded college scholarships. In 1993 he was elected president of the Milwaukee Italian Community Center, which sponsored educational, cultural and artistic events and where he taught classes in opera appreciation. He was a member of the board of directors of Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company and appeared as a non-singing extra in one of its productions. He was a three-time winner and the first person to achieve a perfect score in an annual 40-question opera contest sponsored by the Italian-language newspaper Fra Noi. In 2005 he was named president of the National Italian-American Bar Association.
Frinzi has been the recipient of numerous awards. In addition to his 1997 induction into harness racing’s Living Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York, he was elected to the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Wisconsin Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. Other accolades from the harness racing industry included HHI’s 1980 Man of the Year award, the United States Harness Writers Association’s 1993 Good Guy Award and the 1993 Harness Tracks of America Messenger Award. In 2002 the Italian government named Frinzi Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy). In 2005 he received the Ray Cannon Justice Award from the Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin.
A resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dominic Frinzi died at home on January 28, 2008 at the age of 86. He was survived by sons Joseph, James and Dominic, Jr.
Published in the Harness Racing Museum's 2011 book, The 2006-2009 Immortals