Chris Antley - A jockey's final violent ride : LUSENET : Unk's Wild Wild West : One Thread

A jockey's final, violent ride

By David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Al Behrman, AP

PASADENA, Calif. — As horrifying and heartwrenching as the scene seemed, Natalie Jowett Antley felt a sense of exhilaration as she watched her husband, the celebrated but tormented jockey Chris Antley, hauled away to a psychiatric hospital six weeks ago. 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 of the enormously likeable jockey had frantically sought to help him. Interventions failed. Long talks with old friends failed. 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.

''I felt finally he would be saved,'' she recalled. ''I felt like a miracle had happened.''

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 detox from crystal meth, 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.

A month later, on the night of Dec. 2, Antley was found dead in that same Pasadena house, the victim of an apparent homicide.

His body was discovered that night by a close friend, Cathy Park. She was accompanied by Chris' brother, Brian, who had flown to Los Angeles that day to try to get Chris to join him on a plane back to their home in South Carolina to spend the holidays with their family.

When Park arrived at the house on Rosita Lane, its black iron gate a stark contrast to the otherwise bright, cheery homes on a quiet cul de sac in an upscale neighborhood not far from the Rose Bowl, she wasn't surprised he didn't answer the door.

In the month after he had been released from a 72-hour psychiatric hold at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, Antley had become reclusive, had been using crystal meth again, was drinking heavily and was tortured by depression and paranoia.

He had been resisting help from friends and he usually answered the door or the telephone only for Park, who had once dated Antley's agent, Ron Anderson, and was something of a guardian angel to him in his last days.

She had a key to the house, so she let herself in. When she entered the house, she wasn't shocked to see Antley lying face down in the hallway.

''I just figured he'd drunk too much and fallen down,'' Park said.

But when she walked past Antley's body and into his bedroom, the horror struck. ''There was blood all over, on the walls, everywhere. The bedroom was all torn up. Then I went back to Christopher, and I saw that there was blood on his head. I was just hysterical. I was terrified. I called 911.''

Antley, 34, was dead, the victim of a severe blunt-force blow to the head. Pasadena police have not identified a suspect or made any arrests. Pending toxicological and neural pathology tests that could take another two to four weeks, the death has not been officially ruled a homicide.

What happened, why?

Family members, friends and the horse racing industry are left to mourn and wonder what happened and why.

Through their grief, one image symbolic of the riding skill and compassion he possessed keeps coming back to them:

June 5, 1999 at the Belmont Stakes. Antley was attempting to complete horse racing's Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness aboard an unlikely champion colt named Charismatic. Near the finish line, Charismatic broke down, suffering a fractured left front leg. As he crossed the wire in third place, Antley hopped off the frightened horse, calmed the colt and, with tears streaming down his face, gently cradled the damaged leg.

''He saved that horse's life,'' 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.''

Antley saved a life that day.

Pity no one could return the favor. God knows they tried.

During that '99 Triple Crown season and even up until his marriage in April of this year, Antley was happier and more stable than he had been in some time.

A legendary rider who won nine races in one day in 1987 and posted the unbelievable record of 64 consecutive racing days with a victory in 1989 seemed to have put his troubled past, full of drug problems and bouts of depression, behind him.

What most of the racing industry didn't know even during his celebrated '99 season was that he had been diagnosed as bipolar, or manic-depressive, and was taking daily medication to control his moods.

Anderson, with whom Antley lived during much of the late '90s, could tell when Antley wasn't taking his medication. ''He'd be squirrelly, just nuts,'' he said. ''Believe me, he was out there when he wasn't taking that pill.''

In March, he stopped riding, unable to get down to his riding weight of 117 pounds and suddenly without Anderson, his agent and father figure, who migrated East to book rides for jockey Jerry Bailey.

Still, Antley seemed to have his life under control when he got married in April in Las Vegas. Natalie, for one, was convinced of it.

''He really felt he was cured,'' she said. ''. He said, 'You're my drug. I don't need drugs any more.'"

About that time, Antley stopped taking his medication for good.

From that point on, he began spiraling downward, say those who eventually tried to save him, and depression and paranoia gained ever-greater footholds.

With Antley's mood deteriorating, Natalie began researching and learning much more than she ever thought she'd need to know about his past problems, mental illness and chemical dependencies.

''I've been told people who are manic-depressive get addicted to the roller-coaster and they don't like to take the medication because that takes the roller-coaster away,'' she said. ''And they also don't want the stigma that, 'I'm mentally ill.' They're happy if they have a chance to say 'I'm not sick any more,' and so they stop taking the medication. I think it hurt Chris' pride to take the medication.''

Without the medication, depression gripped him hard. By July, he was drinking heavily and, about the same time, he returned to regular use of crystal meth, a devastatingly addictive and damaging stimulant.

At that point, a core group of friends and family members marshaled efforts to halt his slide. Natalie Antley. Cathy Park. Jockey Gary Stevens, one of his dearest friends at the track, and his wife, Nikki. Ron Anderson. Don Murray, executive director of the Winner's Foundation, a substance-abuse program available to California racetracks. Chris' brother, Brian.

But a death spiral had begun.

Beginning of the end

On July 26, Antley was arrested in Pasadena for drunk driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.26. He was ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but he never went.

About that same time, he had dinner at Gary and Nikki Stevens' house in Sierra Madre, which borders Pasadena and Arcadia, home of Santa Anita racetrack.

''He drank a lot that day, I'll tell you that,'' Stevens said. ''He was paranoid. He felt like he was being followed. He felt like people were listening to his conversations.''

On Sept. 28, responding to a call from Natalie Antley in New York that she couldn't reach her husband and was worried, Pasadena police went to Antley's house and found him with a houseguest, Timothy W. Tyler Jr., 24, and also found methamphetamine, marijuana and equipment used to make methamphetamine. Both men were arrested. Antley wasn't prosecuted because of an inadmissible search and seizure.

After that, Park and Natalie Antley were constantly trying to get Tyler out of Antley's house and out of his life.

''Tim basically moved himself in,'' Natalie said. ''Chris didn't want him there, but he'd just lock himself up in his bedroom and Tim would have the run of the place.''

On Oct. 7, police responded to a 911 call from Antley's house and found Tyler, his girlfriend, Elizabeth Carlson, and their baby, according to police reports. Officers reported seeing broken glass on the floors, tipped-over furniture and ''bizarre drawing on some of the walls.'' Carlson told the police Antley had threatened his wife. ''They just made that up,'' Park said. ''Chris would never hurt Natalie.''

In mid-October, Park, Murray and a drug counselor attempted to get Antley to check into rehab. "I packed a bag for him,'' Park said. ''I said, 'Just go for a week and if you don't like it, I promise I'll come get you.' He said, 'Yeah, I will, but not today.' ''

Later in October, a larger intervention was attempted. Natalie flew out from New York to be there. She was joined by Park, Murray, Nikki Stevens and two drug intervention professionals. But 6-to-1 didn't prove to be any better odds.

''He was friendly, but not responsive,'' Murray said. ''We said, 'Look, why don't you just go into rehab and stay awhile and if you don't like it, you can come home.' His response was, 'I'm already home.' ''

Nobody really knew what to do after that.

''My wife left there thinking it was very final,'' Stevens said.

' ... not the Chris that I knew'

Natalie stayed a few days. One night, Antley was acting so strange that she called the police, hoping they would check him into a psychiatric hospital.

They did, and Natalie was told by a psychiatrist who had treated Antley in the past that he would make sure Chris got the treatment he needed. So she returned to New York full of hope. When she found out a couple days later that the psychiatrist had released Antley, she was furious and, again, disheartened. But, at that point in her pregnancy, she could no longer fly to California.

Park took over caring for Antley, bringing him lunch, trying to shoo away Tyler.

On Nov. 6, Stevens visited.

''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.''

Stevens saw the ''bizarre drawings'' from the police report.

''There was some renovation going on, and there was a plasterboard wall being readied for wallpaper or painting. It's not like someone had gone in and drawn on a good, clean wall. There was a picture of Jesus on the cross. Chris had drawn it. Chris was a very gifted artist. He had a picture of Jesus on the cross and below it was written, 'Jesus, please save me.' That was your bizarre drawing.''

Whether or not the drawing was bizarre, Antley's behavior was.

''When I left, Chris was crying and I was crying,'' Stevens said. ''I didn't think I'd ever see Chris again.''

He didn't.

With nothing else working, Brian flew to California to try to convince Chris to accompany him back to South Carolina to be with their family for the holidays.

That's why Brian went with Park to Antley's house the night of Dec. 2.

Earlier that day, according to police reports, Park brought Antley lunch and said she saw Tyler in the driveway using a crowbar to pry open a toolbox in the bed of his truck.

Police arrested Tyler the day after Antley's death on three drug warrants but said he was not a suspect in Antley's death. Now they say they have not ruled him out. Tyler could not be reached for comment.

From Pasadena to South Carolina to New York, those who knew and loved Antley wait for answers, maybe some justice, possibly some peace.

''I want to see whoever did this to Chris get what's coming to him,'' Park said. ''Chris had his problems, but he didn't deserve this.''

Antley's father, Les, and stepmother, Annie, are dreading Christmas. ''It's going to be hard,'' Annie said. ''Chris was like a big ol' kid at Christmas.''

Natalie Antley's baby is due Jan. 1. Her name is Violet Grace. ''Miraculously, my body and my baby still seem to be healthy,'' she said.

She said she prays people will remember her husband for more than drugs and mental illness and crime scenes and police reports.

''There was so much kindness and generosity in him,'' she said. ''So many people knew and loved Chris. I don't want that to be forgotten amid all the horror.''

-- cin (cin@cin.cin), December 20, 2000


-- cin (cin@cin.cin), December 20, 2000.

-- cin (cin@cin.cin), December 20, 2000.

Neat pictures cin.

I've bet on Chris many times and was never disappointed with his effort win or lose. Knew his wife's name was Natalie but that was about it.

-- Carlos (, December 21, 2000.

Very sad story; you can't help but wonder how many more out there are having serious problems that the "world" either doesn't see, or doesn't WANT to see (which I think is the larger and more pervasive problem, especially when it comes to athletes and "famous" people). And, as in this case, sometimes interventions don't work.

Carlos, can you drop me a line please? I don't know if your email addy ("1") is working..... (sorry, cin)

-- Patricia (, December 21, 2000.

The Chris Antley story has become all too common these days… and famous celebrity meets a sad end. Violence, drugs, mental depression, and just plain criminal behavior, all the fun stuff that the ‘average’ folks are up to. But when a person of wealth and fame throws it up, our senses are assaulted. How could they possibly do that, just give it all away? Simple. For the most part this is their ‘natural’ life style and no amount of money will elevate many of them from the ‘groove’. We could start a list and work on it for days.

Chris Antley, was a wonderfully gifted athlete with a long history of trouble with his private family life and with the law. When I hear these stories it makes me damned mad that someone would ignore good fortune and not become a better person for it.

-- Barry (, December 22, 2000.

I don't think this has anything to do with money.

This story touched me; brought tears to my eyes. Most specifically, the photo of Chris cradling that colt's foot, tears streaming down his cheeks. He showed such compassion.

After some cruel news headlines that he had ballooned up to 135 from his ideal riding weight of 117, I think he used the crystal meth to control his weight. He was taking anti-depressants for his illness, which are notorious for causing weight-gain. Riding was his livelihood, and he couldn't do it with all the weight. Bad choice,of course to not take the AD's and use the drugs, but he and his family definitely have my sympathies.

-- cin (cin@cin.cin), December 22, 2000.

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