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AntMan Chris Antley - A Decade Later
 By Chris Antley Memorial   •   12th Dec 2010   •   11,569 views   •   7 comments
"There was so much kindness and generosity in him. So many people knew and loved Chris. I don't want that to be forgotten amid all the horror." -Natalie Antley, his wife.

The Chris Antley story has become all too common these days...rich and famous celebrity meets a sad end.

As horrifying and heartwrenching as the scene seemed, Natalie Antley felt a sense of exhilaration as she watched her husband, the celebrated but tormented jockey Chris Antley, hauled away to a psychiatric hospital. For months, as her husband spiraled downward into a morass of mental illness, drug abuse and heavy drinking, she and other close friends and family members had frantically sought to help him.

Interventions failed. Long talks with old friends failed.

CHRIS ANTLEY 3

So had pleas for him to check into rehab and to resume taking the medication that controlled his manic-depressive condition.

But now, as she stood in the driveway of her husband's Pasadena house, seven months pregnant, and watched him be taken away by people she thought had answers, she said she began to believe that recovery, sanity and perhaps a normal, happy life with her husband and infant daughter were all possible.

Natalie got on a plane back to New York, where she lives and works as a producer for ABC Sports. The plan was for Chris to receive drug counseling, to resume the psychiatric treatment and medication for his mental disorder and to join Natalie in New York for the birth of their daughter.

But Natalie never saw Chris again.

On November 6, 2000, Jockey Gary Stevens visited Chris at his home. "What I saw that day was not the Chris that I knew," he said. "He was very quiet, very sad, and very paranoid. For whatever reason, he was living in a 24-hour-a-day nightmare that he couldn't wake up from. When I left, Chris was crying and I was crying. I didn't think I'd ever see Chris again."

He didn't.

Chris Antley was born on January 6, 1966 in South Carolina. He was an insecure kid, who was too small to make the football team. He fell into work at a stable in the town of Elloree, not because he knew anything about horses. He didn't. But he liked coming home with a few twenties in his pocket, with which he bought Izod shirts, a symbol to him of belonging. People considered Chris a "natural" on a horse. Actually, he taught himself to ride by watching how the cowboys did it around the farm, and mimicking them. He didn't fall in love with riding. He fell in love with horses. One horse in particular, a 2-year-old chestnut. Chris would rush to the stable from school, lay down with his head on the horse's stomach in the stall, then groom the horse until he could see his reflection in its coat. He rode the chestnut in the Elloree Trials, and won.

At age 16, Chris became a jockey. Before he was out of his teens he was the nation's leading rider with 469 wins in 1985. Two years later he captured nine races in a day. Another two years, and he went 64 consecutive days winning at least one race. He received the riding title at Monmouth and became the leading rider in New York.

The next part of this story, takes place not in the winners circle, but in the head of Jockey Chris Antley, a troubled young man.

There was the daily grind of abusing his body to make weight. The bouts with drugs, for which he blamed no one but himself. The depression. The extended absences for "personal reasons." The sense he was battling voices that wouldn't go away, and searching for a peace that remained just beyond his reach.

Jockeys are judged by what they do day after day. The successful riders blend those days into years of consistency. The exception was Chris. He was not consistent. However with his talent and his charm, he came back on again and again.

In 1997, Chris Antley quit the sport of horse racing, not because he wanted to, but because he couldn't meet the riding weight. In 1998, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. No matter what he did, the weight he needed to lose for racing would not come off. He dieted. He ran. He rode a stationary bike for 28 miles a day. He did physical labor and then would run 10 miles a day. He did everything possible. Nothing worked. He was so exhausted that one day he passed out cold. The game of horse racing was over for Chris. The dream had vanished into thin air. He even lost the courage to step on the scale. After hitting 147 lbs, he quit trying. He moved in with his dad. However, this was the bleakest of homecomings.

Everyday, Chris would get up, walk to the living room and sit on the couch and watch TV. He rarely spoke. He rarely went out of the house. Here was a 32-year-old former top athlete, now sitting in front of a TV wearing extra-large T-shirts. He was dead inside. He just stared at the walls, not talking.

Two weeks...Three weeks...Five.

Then one day in October, Chris heard a horse race broadcast on the television. He went to the living room door and looked in. He heard the announcer's machine gun delivery. He saw the horses streaming along in a line with their necks pumping and their tails streaming beind them. The jockeys were driving against each other. They were feeling what it was to have a great thoroughbred beneath them, feeling that danger, feeling that peace. They would feel what it was to win and then be led to the winners' circle. Chris started to cry.

"To say I used to do that....," he though. Nothing but sadness filled him. He was now just a fat man in a big T-shirt, just watching the races. He felt shaken. He didn't care about the money. He would ride every day even he had to do it for free. If he could get back on a thoroughbred in a race, even if he came up to the quarter pole and dropped dead, he would have lived exactly as he wanted. He was almost embarrassed to love anything so much. That was the moment that changed him.

He started running everyday and put himself on the Atkins diet. He started slowly, carefully walking on the treadmill. After an hour or so he kept working on the elliptical trainers and stair-steppers for five or six more hours. He set the cardio machines to the maximum time of thirty minutes and then would go running in the streets for half an hour. Then would go back on the machines. By New Year's Day 1999, his weight was down to 125 pounds. By February 3, 1999, he was back to racing.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas gave Chris the chance to ride a 30-1 longshot in the Kentucky Derby. The horse's name was Charismatic. Chris told his dad, "Dad, this horse has my name written all over it." He pointed out that the first six letters of the horse's name included "Chris A." Chris fell in love with Charismatic's story. The colt was washed up in the game and became a claimer, just like himself. Charismatic and Chris Antley went on to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. A few days before the Belmont, the newspapers read, "Charismatic, a colt nobody wanted, is ridden by Antley, a jockey everybody doubted."

Most people at Belmont that day only remembered the silence. Everyone was on their feet in the way they always are for the last seconds of a horse race. But this time no one was so disinterested as to be sitting for the finish because these were the last seconds of the Belmont, the last of the Triple Crown, the last moment to get a good look at a twenty-one year cold streak being broken, the best chance to get a first view of racing's new hero, the last of the millennium. However, there would be no Triple Crown winner in 1999. Just past the finish, Chris Antley punched his feet forward against the stirrups as hard as he could, leaning all his weight past the saddle, and Charismatic stopped short. Chris jumped off and fell to the ground with the reins in his hand. Then he crawled through the dirt to the horse and quickly ran his hands down both front legs searching for the injury. He lifted up the left front leg and gently braced it against his body with tears streaming down his mud-caked face. The tears welled up in Antley's eyes not because he had just lost the Triple Crown, but because he cared that much about the horse.

"He saved that horse's life," Ron Anderson said. "Basically, what happens in that situation is that horses will just thrash around and keep hitting the ground with the leg until the bones and the ligaments are destroyed."

Chris Antley saved a life that day. Pity no one could return the favor. God knows they tried.

On December 2, 2000, Chris Antley's body was found in his home, by his brother and a close friend. I will not go into detail of the scene of the house, since there are younger players on here, so lets just say the house was torn up and a mess. At age 34, Chris was dead.

Police originally investigated into it being a homicide, but ruled on Jan. 11, 2001 that the former jockey had died as a result of an overdose. Just a few hours after the ruling, Antley’s wife gave birth to Violet Grace Antley, Chris Antley’s first and only daughter.

"Chris had a great capacity to love," Clay Weeks said. "He loved his family. He loved his sport. He loved animals. He loved children. He loved people. And, Natalie," he said, addressing Antley's widow, "most of all he loved you."

"You could see the zeal he had for life," Don Antley said of his nephew. "If you'd met Chris, you'll never forget him. ... He touched the entire town and the town will never be the same."

"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," said Drew Mollica.

"We all saw the triumphs -- the emotional wins aboard Charismatic in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. And then saving the horse's life after the Belmont while the world watched. The tears welled up in Antley's eyes not because he had just lost the Triple Crown, but because he cared that much about the horse.

And then there was the side very few saw. The warmth, the special gift he had with kids. The way they loved him, because he was one of them. His wife, Natalie, was pregnant with their child when Chris Antley died. Perhaps fatherhood would have helped kill off the demons that got him first." -The Bloodhorse.

Chris Antley, is a story in and of himself. A lesson, a message. He’s everything a jockey wants to be and nothing. He is a tragedy and a hero. Chris Antley will be remembered for a lot of things by different people. To me, I remember him for his generosity, compassion, and love. Many people remember when in tears he held Charismatic’s injured leg or when he kissed Charismatic’s nose before the Derby as if he had already won it.

I remember one of the people that inspired me the most. His story taught me that a person can overcome any obstacles or struggles no matter how impossible it may seem. Failure always leads to great success. For Chris Antley, his failure led to the Kentucky Derby.

Horse News More In This Category:  General      Horse News More From This Author:  Chris Antley Memorial
Signature Farms Int  
An amazing story. This almost had me in tears!
Very well written.

RIP Chris Antley.
  Dec 13, 2010  •  7,288 views
 
Finally There  
This was amazing! Thanks for writing an article on him! =)
Brought unshead tears to my eyes.
  Dec 13, 2010  •  7,131 views
 
Chris Antley Memorial  MOD 
Thanks guys!

**Correction - Decade (10 years) not a century (100 years).
  Dec 13, 2010  •  7,171 views
 
Wanderin Boy Memorial  
Great article Chris. Not many people know about Charismatic and Chris Antley. They almost won the triple crown.
RIP Chris Antley
  Dec 13, 2010  •  7,136 views
 
Wanderin Boy Memorial  
Great article Chris. Not many people know about Charismatic and Chris Antley. They almost won the triple crown.
RIP Chris Antley
  Dec 13, 2010  •  7,136 views
 
DejaVu  MOD 
I love the way you wrote this story, your dedication to racing and Chris shines through. I hope your dream comes through and we'll read in the papers about your fabulous career!! =)
  Dec 13, 2010  •  7,170 views
 
Ponyissie  
RIP Chris, it's good you remember him
  Jan 10, 2011  •  7,156 views
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