Back from nowhere, here comes Antley

Personal life jostled, he maneuvers past troubles, closes in on history

Jockey 124TH PREAKNESS

May 16, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Chris Antley shared his stirring comeback story with the country again yesterday after winning the Preakness aboard Charismatic.

"I never really believed enough in myself about a lot of things," Antley said. "And I was ready to live the rest of my life in South Carolina, driving a 1967 Mustang and playing the stock market in a limited role. I accepted the fact that I couldn't come back and ride. My body was too big. The road back was long and hard, but maybe that's what I needed: to have something taken away from me that I wanted so much."

His pent-up emotions overflowed as Antley continued: "Now in the next minute, you're back in the game and maybe ready to do something that hasn't been done in a long time [21 years]. I have a chance to win a Triple Crown. And that will be good for racing."

Antley, 33, is America's latest darling of horse racing as he continues his recovery from drugs, alcohol abuse and excessive weight.

Antley, who began his career at Pimlico Race Course in 1983, acknowledges that he can hardly believe the tale.

Heck, even his fellow jockeys are helping him through this amazing saga.

Antley said jockey Gary Stevens, riding Stephen Got Even, gave him a big boost yesterday as he headed into the final turn for the race to the finish line.

"I looked over to Gary and asked him if his horse was dead and if he was, if he would let me get outside," Antley said. "Gary didn't even hesitate. He said, `Go on, little buddy.' "

And that's exactly what Antley and Charismatic did to win the 124th running of the Preakness by 1 1/2 lengths over Menifee.

More than an hour after riding Charismatic to victory, Antley still struggled to keep from breaking down as he spoke to reporters.

"This is all happening so fast in so short a time," he said. "Less than five months ago I was back home in South Carolina carrying all that extra weight [147 pounds] and now I'm riding long shots to victory and weighing just 114 pounds."

Long shots?

That's putting it kindly, especially in the case of Charismatic. In the Kentucky Derby, the one-time claiming horse was a 31-1 choice.

More like riding a prayer.

That prayer, Charismatic, was down to an 8-1 choice yesterday but few believed Antley could pull it off again.

But he did, and now the doubters are lining up again as Antley heads to the Belmont Stakes.

Yesterday, Antley declined to answer a persistent questioner who asked him whether he believed he could really win the Triple Crown on a claiming horse.

"Do I have to answer that?" Antley said twice.

But he said, "I believe Charismatic and I were meant to be."

As evidence of his enthusiasm for his rejuvenated career, Antley went out and rode in the 11th race yesterday, the race immediately following the Preakness. He brought Big Rut from far behind to finish second.

He could have basked in the spotlight of his newfound celebrity and skipped the 11th, but he had signed a contract to ride for trainer Hamilton Smith and he honored the contract.

"It's a great day in my life and just riding in any race is a great thrill," Antley said.

Pub Date: 5/16/99

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