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Antley's life a tale of triumph and tragedy

Antley's life a tale of triumph and tragedy

Chris Antley’s wife, Natalie Jowett Antley, spoke of polarity. There is fear at one end, and love at
Antley's life a tale of triumph and tragedy
Shelly Antley, mother of late jockey Chris Antley, and Antley's widow, Natalie Jowett Antley, look at the jockey's plaque Friday at his induction into the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs.
Photographer: Erica Miller

Chris Antley’s wife, Natalie Jowett Antley, spoke of polarity.

There is fear at one end, and love at the other, she said.

There are her husband’s off-track issues and death, against his career achievements as a jockey.

Friday was a day to celebrate all that was good about Chris Antley, as he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, along with trainer King Leatherbury and the horses Xtra Heat and Lava Man in the contemporary category.

A Top-10 rider in wins in North America every year from 1984-87, the native Floridian whose adopted hometown was tiny Elloree, S.C., won the Kentucky Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and the 1999 Derby and Preakness on Charismatic before finishing third in the Belmont Stakes.

That race produced the lasting image of Antley, who sensed that Charismatic had injured his leg in the stretch and jumped off the horse just past the wire, comforting him and holding his broken leg off the ground until help arrived.

Charismatic survived and went on to become a productive stallion in Japan. The following year, Antley, at the age of 34, was found dead of severe blunt force trauma in his Pasadena, Calif., home in what was ruled a multiple drug overdose and injuries likely related to a fall.

His wife spoke eloquently about the jockey known as the Antman.

“There’s a polarity . . . he had soaring achievements on the racetrack, feats that may never be equaled,” she said. “Just as intensely, his actions and decisions off the track hit such depths that they became tragic.”

Antley’s talent and work as a rider were clearly evident.

He led the New York circuit in victories in 1989 with 234 and won a Saratoga riding title the following year.

In 1992, he won six Grade I races — the Futurity, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park and the Ballerina, Test and Alabama at Saratoga.

“I don’t know if I ever saw a jockey with more natural talent than Chris Antley,” Hall of Fame master of ceremonies and long-time NYRA track announcer Tom Durkin said.

Antley spent time in a substance abuse clinic in the late 1980s, and retired temporarily in 1997 because of weight and drug problems.

He got back on his feet to enjoy his finest moments on Charismatic in 1999.

His wife, who accepted Antley’s Hall of Fame plaque with his mother, Shelly, said the recognition was even more gratifying in light of how his life ended.

“It provides a profound healing opportunity for our family and a chance to see what happens when you push fear aside and let love win,” she said.

The 82-year-old Maryland-based Leatherbury has 6,455 career victories and is best known for training the wildly popular sprinter Ben’s Cat.

Xtra Heat won 26 races in 35 starts, but perhaps her signature race was a loss, when she finished a gutsy second against a full field of males in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. At 17-1, she led all the way before being caught by Squirtle Squirt by a half-length.

The California-based Lava Man won more than $5 million in purses. His seven Grade I victories included the Hollywood Gold Cup twice and the Santa Anita Handicap twice.

Also inducted, by the Historic Review Committee, were champion steeplechase rider and trainer and Kentucky Derby winner Vincent Powers and the horse Billy Kelly, winner of 39 races, including 14 as a juvenile in 1918.

Industry leaders Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and John Hay Whitney were inducted as Pillars of the Turf.

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