Friends mourn slain jockey as probe continues

Updated: December 5, 2000, 1:25 PM ET
By Bill Christine | Los Angeles Times

Two days after two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Chris Antley was found dead in the hallway of his Pasadena home, an acquaintance pleaded not guilty to drug charges stemming from an earlier incident at the house, officials said.

Chris Antley
Chris Antley winning the 1999 Kentucky Derby aboard Charismatic.
Timothy Wyman Tyler Jr., 24, was then taken into sheriff's custody, and faces drug and drunk driving charges from two other arrest warrants. Police say that he is not considered a suspect in Antley's death. In September both men were arrested on methamphetamine-related charges at Antley's home in the city's San Rafael neighborhood, a deputy city prosecutor said. Tyler, who is the son of a well-to-do Pasadena family, did not appear for a scheduled court date and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He was taken into custody for the outstanding warrant Sunday while being interviewed by police after Antley's death. It was not clear if Antley faced charges stemming from the September incident. The world-famous jockey was found by his brother and a close friend late Saturday with a severe blunt-force wound to his head, police said. Detectives have launched an investigation, although they say they have no suspects and the coroner has not determined the cause of death. On Monday afternoon, the gated gray home on Rosita Lane was blocked off with crime scene tape, with a Pasadena police car parked in front. The tree-lined street, scattered with leaves, was quiet. Antley hadn't ridden since March and rarely left his home. Friends said the jockey sat on his couch watching television, struggling with bouts of depression and paranoia that he had suffered since he was a child. But real estate agent Cathy Park, the friend who discovered his body Saturday night, said he was becoming more upbeat in recent days, looking forward to a new baby and spending the holidays with his family in South Carolina. Antley's wife, Natalie Jowett, who works for ABC and lives in New York, is expecting their baby in several weeks. "He was realizing that the drinking was stupid and it was just making the depression worse," she said. Park said she last saw Antley alive at 1:30 p.m. Saturday when she dropped off lunch for him. Park said she left to pick up his brother at the airport and do some Christmas shopping. She returned with Antley's brother, Brian, about 11:30 p.m. and found the jockey lying dead in the hallway, she said. "I was horrified," Park said. "We were both horrified." Park said she was interviewed by detectives and told not to speak in detail about what she saw that night. On Monday, as police continued to sort out the circumstances of Antley's death, his acquaintances mourned a career and life of extreme ups and downs--from wealth and celebrity to depression and isolation. For years, the jockey fought problems with his weight, bulimia and drug abuse. Don Murray of the Winner's Foundation, a nonprofit group that treats drug and alcohol addiction at California's racetracks, was disheartened when he regularly visited Antley in recent months. "He just couldn't seem to find what made him happy in life," said Murray. Murray said his group had referred Antley to the Grandview Foundation in Pasadena for a 30-day drug treatment in 1997. He said Antley was also taking a prescription medication to treat general depression, which he had battled for years. On his recent visits to Antley's house, Murray often asked him if he was still taking the medication, to which Antley would quickly respond: "Yeah, I'm taking it." But Murray said he had his doubts. He said Antley went through bouts where nothing seemed right in his life. He had given up one of his most passionate endeavors, day trading--which reportedly earned him a small fortune in recent years--since the stock market turned down.
He just couldn't seem to find what made him happy in life. ”
— Don Murray
Despite the problems, Antley was cordial and charming when Murray visited. The house was tidy. The jockey was showered and well-groomed. And Antley seemed interested in other people's lives. "I was just heartbroken over this," Murray said. "This guy was such a great person. You can't help but think: Did I do enough? Could I have done more to help him?" Friends of Antley's thought that his marriage to Jowett, a field producer for ABC Sports, might redirect his unquestioned talents as a horseman. Her announcement that she was pregnant--the birth is expected about Jan. 1--was thought to be another incentive for the troubled rider. "Natalie was hoping that she would be able to change him," said world renowned trainer Bob Baffert, who gave the bride away. On the wall of the Nevada chapel where Antley was married, the jockey noticed a listing of celebrities who had been married there, Baffert said. He was most impressed by the name of another great athlete, Michael Jordan. By the time the wedding party was over, Antley had his name added to the wall, not far from Jordan's, Baffert said. That was the last time Baffert saw the jockey. They talked a few times on the phone after that. Antley was supposed to stop by in the mornings at Santa Anita to exercise a few of Baffert's horses. But each time he did not appear. "This is the tough part," Baffert said. "Chris might have died last Saturday night, but he really left us a while ago." It was the last, sad chapter in a tumultuous life. In New York more than 10 years ago, Antley ran into trouble after he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. But he was resilient, rebounding to rack up the wins in record fashion. The best of these were the Kentucky Derby victories with Strike The Gold in 1991 and Charismatic in 1999. By the time Antley reached California at the end of 1993, he hoped people would forget his drug transgressions, but every time he took a vacation--which was often--skeptics in the sport would wonder. Antley never tested positive for drugs in California. Yet his lengthy departures from riding at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar raised questions; he was abandoning big-time earnings. His friends said the high-paced life of a celebrity rider--the interviews, ceremonies and social engagements--were often too much and he just wanted to get away from it. But he could never get away from his own personal demons, they said. "In the end, Chris couldn't be helped," said Baffert. "There are some people that you just can't help." Los Angeles Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this story. Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

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