Chris Antley, a rider with divine talent whose career was hampered by human imperfection, was found dead in his Pasadena, Calif., home Dec. 2. The cause of death was "severe trauma to the head," according to Pasadena police Lt. Richard Sandoval. Both the Pasadena police and the Los Angeles County Coroner are conducting ongoing investigations into the homicide.
Police and paramedics responded to a 911 call from Antley's brother and a friend. The jockey was pronounced dead at the scene at 11 p.m., and paramedics termed the situation "suspicious." As of noon on Dec. 4, an acquaintance of Antley's was in police custody on drug charges but had not been termed a suspect in the homicide. Antley's brother, Brian, had just arrived from South Carolina due to concerns about the rider's mental state.
Antley's brilliant career as a jockey was interrupted by frequent gaps of idleness as he fought weight, drug abuse, depression, injuries, and personal demons. He rode his final race last March at Santa Anita.
"I've been agenting since 1972, and this guy was one of the best, most talented, and natural riders I've ever seen," said Ron Anderson, who handled Antley's book from 1996-2000 and now represents Jerry Bailey. "He could do things no one else could. He had a sixth sense, and only a handful get to that level. Horses who were lazy and didn't want to run, he could make them run. An extreme talent. Not good. Great.
"As a person, he was very generous and kind. Very warm and great with kids. My granddaughter loved him. He just had a way."
Antley began his racing career on the ground floor, mucking stalls as a teen and then learning to exercise and gallop horses in Elloree, S.C. Just a few years later he led the country in wins, becoming the top jockey in New York, then an elite rider on the West Coast as well. He reached the pinnacle of his profession, winning the Kentucky Derby first with Strike the Gold in 1991, and encoring aboard Charismatic in 1999.
"If winning the Derby and the Preakness on Charismatic brought some joy and happiness into his turbulent life, I'm grateful for that," said D. Wayne Lukas, the horse's trainer. "Chris was a very talented individual as a race rider. He was also articulate and knew how to represent himself well. A very likeable guy. He had so many plusses, it makes all of this even more of a shame."
"He was very strong on a horse and a fierce competitor," said Bob Baffert, for whom Antley won stakes during his 1999 comeback aboard Joe Who, River Keen, and Forestry. "When he turned for home and hooked another horse, you had the advantage with Chris. When he set a horse down you knew you were going to get there."
As quick as was his rise to success, and as fast as horses ran for him, Antley could not outdistance the problems that plagued him. "He's been on his own since he was 16, and he always seemed to be searching for something," noted rider Gary Stevens, one of Antley's closest friends. "Everybody has their ups and downs, and unfortunately Chris didn't respond well to the downs. He's had a troubled life."
Those troubles included repeated bouts with depression and drugs. The few people who had talked with the isolated Antley recently described him as "tormented" and "depressed." Drugs had reentered the picture. The morning after Antley's body was found, Pasadena police arrested Timothy Tyler, 24, on three outstanding warrants involving drugs and driving under the influence. Tyler, described as a friend and houseguest of Antley's, was being held on $45,000 bond. While he has not been charged in the homicide, police are questioning him.
"We don't believe this was a random act," said a police spokesperson. "We are not seeking anyone else at the moment."
Trainer Nick Zito, for whom Antley rode Strike the Gold to victory in the Derby, said: "It was a very, very sad thing, and such a waste. To me, Chris was always a special person and an unbelievable talent. The kid never ceased to amaze me. It was just something that was God-given. I wish he could have had a life like Gary Stevens or Jerry Bailey, but he certainly was in that category, talent-wise. I remember when he was at Monmouth in 1988 and I gave him some mounts here in New York, and boom, boom, boom, on winner after another. Soon after, all the other trainers caught on. He just man-handled those other jockeys. Then Strike the Gold came along, and he was a horse for both of us.
"When he (Antley) made his first comeback, he was rolling again, but then the weight problems made him very resentful," Zito continued. "I remember standing down by the rail with him one morning, and he said, 'Nick, this is b.s.' A lot of us have problems, but there are some children out there who need tutoring and special guidance. Chris was like one of those children. Whenever someone came along and gave him that guidance, it put him back on the right path. He needed people to look after him. We had a great relationship through the years, and I can't recall one harsh word ever said between us. It takes something like this to make you aware of what goes on out there."
Antley had interests outside riding horses. Although he was modest in talking about it, he was an accomplished Wall Street trader who published a newsletter and later blasted out e-mails with stock picks called "The Ant Man Report." He did well enough to purchase a million-dollar-plus home in Pasadena last year.
During Charismatic's pursuit of the 1999 Triple Crown, Antley met Natalie Jowett, a features producer for ABC Sports who was working on a story about him. They were married last April on the Las Vegas Strip, and she is pregnant with the couple's child.