A jockey thrown and trampled by his demons

Updated: December 5, 2000, 1:22 PM ET
By Andrew Beyer | The Washington Post

Upon learning that Chris Antley had been murdered, racing fans may have thought back to the day in 1991 when the jockey captured the Kentucky Derby aboard Strike the Gold. As he beamed in the winner's circle, Antley seemingly had the potential to become one of the greatest riders ever.

Chris Antley
The December murder of two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Chris Antley was one of the year's most shocking stories in sports.
Or fans may have remembered the poignant aftermath of the 1999 Belmont Stakes, when Charismatic broke down in the stretch as he was trying to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown. Antley immediately jumped off the distressed colt, comforted him and cradled his injured leg so that he didn't put any more weight on it. Veterinarians said the jockey's sense and horsemanship may have saved the animal's life. But most people who knew Antley had a different reaction to Sunday's news reports--a sense that this tragic end was almost inevitable. As he squandered his talent and the promise of his career, Antley had always seemed bent on self-destruction. Antley, 34, was beaten to death at his Pasadena, Calif., home but reportedly was not a victim of a random act of violence. Police originally had taken into custody a man who had outstanding warrants involving drugs and was described as an associate of the jockey, but they released him yesterday. Antley, who according to jockey agent Ron Anderson, had been "hanging with some shady people," had a habit of finding trouble. Antley started his career in Maryland, riding his first winner at Bowie in 1983, before settling in New Jersey and establishing himself as one of the sport's bright young stars. As a teenager he was the nation's top race-winning rider in 1985. He made a successful move to New York in 1986 and the next year he made the Guinness Book of World Records by riding nine winners in a day in 1987--four at Aqueduct in the afternoon, five at the Meadowlands at night. "It could have been such a picture-book story," said Drew Mollica, Antley's agent in those years. "He was a natural. He could have been anything; he could have eclipsed every riding record on earth. "But Chris was troubled to the core. It was as if a demon had a hold of him. He had psychological problems and his drug use probably stemmed from them. His weight problems were a derivative of both." Antley, who had seen his brother's riding career destroyed by drug use, started using cocaine in 1986. He tested positive for the drug in 1988, surrendered his racing license and entered his first rehabilitation program. I interviewed him in the late 1980s and asked him why an athlete with the chance to be so great would risk throwing everything away. He answered: "Just because you're making big money doesn't mean everything is perfect with your life. People don't know your family problems, your individual circumstances. I was unhappy. I wasn't content."
Just because you're making big money doesn't mean everything is perfect with your life. People don't know your family problems, your individual circumstances.
Chris Antley
He told me had recently watched "Big," the movie in which the youthful protagonist becomes an adult overnight. When the comedy was over, Antley was crying. "I've been on my own since the age of 15," he said. "I'd had to grow up fast like that, too." Antley's triumphs on the track were regularly interspersed with drug, alcohol, weight and personal problems. In 1997, he entered a drug-rehab program in Pasadena and stayed with it for six months. Although he had ballooned to 150 pounds, Antley decided to take a shot at a comeback. He dieted diligently, exercised fanatically and returned to racing in February 1999 after a 15-month absence. That spring he got a lucky break just when he desperately needed one. Because Charismatic was a former claiming horse with an indifferent record, trainer Wayne Lukas gave the mount to Antley rather than one of the top jockeys he usually employs. Antley rewarded his confidence by delivering a flawless ride in a trouble-filled Kentucky Derby to score a 33-to-1 upset. When he followed this triumph with a victory in the Preakness, Antley was racing's most celebrated personality. He was the darling of the media, which chronicled not only his comeback as a jockey but his astuteness as a stock trader. Antley was making big money as a trader and publishing a daily e-mail service called The Ant Man Report. After all his struggles, he was finally on top of the world. Antley never managed to remain on top of the world and couldn't do it this time. After the 1999 Triple Crown series, Antley had trouble controlling his weight, and stopped riding in the fall. He briefly returned to competition in the spring, and rode his final race at Santa Anita on March 19. In recent months, friends said, he had grown increasingly depressed. A neighbor described him as isolated and tormented. Mollica said: "He had everything a person could want, but it wasn't enough. He was never happy. He didn't have peace one day in his life. When I heard that he had died, my thought was: This is the first day he's had peace in 34 years." 2000 The Washington Post Company