Thursday, December 7, 2000
Updated: December 10, 10:55 PM ET
A man at odds with himself
By Dave Johnson
Special to ESPN.com
If Chris Antley would have been a city, he would have been New Orleans -- fun and racy on the outside, but with a dark underbelly.
If he'd been an automobile, he would have been a shiny new sports car -- no doubt fast and sleek, but with a faulty starter.
So many things about Chris seemed to be at odds.
But I can tell you the following from personal experience and observation. By being one of the most charming and charismatic sports stars you had ever met, you forgave him for his unprofessional gaffes when he was not on a racehorse.
His former agent Drew Mollica was a combination father figure, religious confesser, den mother, chauffer , banker and personal motivator. Chris just needed extraordinary help just to get through a week when he rode on the ultra tough New York circuit.
I'll never forget a few years ago, when Allen Paulson's fine thoroughbred Geri was scheduled to run on the turf in the then Molson Million in Canada. I felt that Geri would be one of the best turf runners of that generation. Trainer Bill Mott really knew his horse would be better on grass than dirt. Jerry Brown of Thorough-graph also had the top numbers ready for Geri. When I heard Antley was going to ride him in Canada, I spoke to Mollica, who shocked me by recounting what he had to go through just to get the unmotivated and distracted Antley to the plane at J.F.K.! This was a young man who marched to a different drummer.
Much has and will be made of his addictions. Of course they were real. And horrible. But I think that the crash that led to his tragic death was in some large way related to his not being able to steer his mounts in the stock market like he guided those in classic races.
He made a lot of money -- a large amount of money -- when everybody who was playing the dot coms made fortunes. Somehow this empowered this naive, under-educated, lovable rogue into thinking he had some special insight into the brutal arena of the stock market.
In the spring of 1999 he told me he would get up at 3 or 4 a.m. on the West Coast, write and file his "Ant Man" stock column (with his daily stock picks) and then head to the track for the morning workouts.
But as the dot com market fell, so did Chris' confidence, bank account and ego.
I know the following conversation took place earlier this year in the steam room at Santa Anita between Chris and another rider.
Chris: "Monitors float"
There was no reaction from the other rider.
Chris: "I've lost a lot of money in the stock market."
Still no reaction.
Chris: "I threw my computer in the swimming pool. It sank to the bottom."
Chris: "Then I threw the monitor in the pool."
This was a fellow at the end of his rope. Trying another comeback as a jockey with severe weight problems added to the strain.
As many of you know, I was with ABC Sports for over 23 years. One of the joys there was knowing and working with feature producer Natalie Jowett. After Antley won the Kentucky Derby in 1999, Natalie was assigned to produce feature pieces on Chris for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes broadcasts. They fell in love and were married this past April.
I was with Natalie just three days before Chris was murdered. Natalie, eight months pregnant, was radiant. But now she is alone, carrying her late husband's child. It is a tragedy in the truest meaning and depth of the word. Our attention must center on Natalie and her child, due in January. Our prayers and thoughts must he with them.
There will be many who will say how Chris died before his time and that is true. But make no mistake, when his child grows up, he or she can say to friends and family, "My dad was one of the best jockeys the world has ever known."
And considering all that father accomplished -- including two Kentucky Derby victories and even a place in the Guiness Book of World Records for winning nine races in one day -- that child will be absolutely right. Chris Antley was one of the greatest. Ever.
For more than two decades, Dave Johnson was the Voice of the Triple Crown on ABC Sports. Now, Dave continues to regularly cover horse racing as a host and an analyst for ESPN.