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Derby Winning Jockey Set for More

May 13, 1999

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Chris Antley is back on top of the racing world, and the jockey who rode Charismatic to victory in the Kentucky Derby hopes to stay there for a while.

``It’s been hectic,″ Antley said, ``but I’m enjoying every minute of it.″

Over the past two decades, Antley has enjoyed unrivaled success, but he’s also endured failures that nearly wrecked his career several times.

Antley rode nine winners in one day in 1987, went 64 consecutive days with at least one victory in 1989, and now has two Derby wins _ Strike the Gold in 1991 was the first. On Saturday, he’ll go for his first Preakness victory, which would then set up a Triple Crown chance in the Belmont Stakes June 5.

There were the lows, too: Drug, alcohol and weight problems, as well as bouts of depression. The 33-year-old Antley overcame each setback, but the latest was the toughest: He kept gaining weight, the easiest way for a jockey to put himself out of business.

He left racing in September 1997, and returned to his father’s home in South Carolina. Antley tried everything he could to lose weight _ diet, exercise, pills, sitting in a hot box.

``I’d go from cycle to cycle,″ Antley, who once weighed 147 pounds, said. ``I’d go to Lasix (a diuretic) until it about killed me, then I would try to flip (self-induced vomiting) for a while until that bothered me. I never maintained anything properly. Maybe I wasn’t able to make that strong commitment.″

Finally, even though his father, Les, had encouraged him to find another job, the combination of running in the mornings and a strict non-carbohydrate diet began to work. Off went the pounds, the depressing days ended, and Antley was back on track. At least that was the plan when he returned to California.

``He showed up in February, came by the barn every day, and said `What can I do?′ ″ trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Charismatic, said. ``We had nothing for him, because our work schedules are set early. But I knew he was trying very hard to get his career back on target.″

Antley, now weighing about 114 pounds, traveled to the Fair Grounds in New Orleans to ride the Lukas-trained Mountain Range in the Risen Star Stakes. Lukas appreciated the favor.

Just before the April 10 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, a race in which Charismatic would win and clinch his spot in the Derby, the trainer met Antley in the tunnel at Santa Anita Park.

``I said I’m going to run a nice horse in Lexington, and you’re my choice to ride him (in the Derby), but I want you to watch him,″ Lukas said.

Antley remembered the conversation, and thought, ``Wouldn’t it just be neat if I could ride in it?″ Then he called his father, telling him: ``I’m going to the Derby!″

Lukas said he chose Antley on a hunch.

``I thought Antley was a fit, thought he was hungry,″ Lukas said. ``He’d won a Derby, he’s a great finisher, and he’s very confident. He has a great coolness about him.″

Antley said winning the Derby had a different meaning the second time.

``I look back at Strike the Gold’s race and my thoughts afterward seemed more of a blur,″ Antley said. ``Things went by fast, I had mixed emotions.″

When Charismatic, at 31-1, approached the finish line at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, Antley believed he had finally put his racing life back together.

``I remember approaching the wire vividly, and I remember the warm feeling,″ Antley said. ``It wasn’t a feeling of up and down joy. I felt a warm feeling, like finally things had come together. And I felt like a kid who’s been out running around and his mother finally grabs him, and he felt safe.″

For now, Antley is safe from the drug and alcohol woes that got him suspended twice in 1988 and from the depression that plagued him throughout his weight woes.

Drew Mollica, Antley’s agent on two occasions _ in the mid- and late 1980s, and for seven months in ’97, calls Antley ``the Roy Hobbs of racing, a natural.″

``He’ll make a nervous horse calm; a calm horse pumped up, a slow horse a fighter and he doesn’t know how to check (briefly hold back),″ Mollica said. ``He’s fearless, he’s true-grit squared.″

Asked if he could regain the form that allowed him to ride a North American-leading 469 winners in 1985, Mollica replied: ``If he ever puts 100 percent focus into it, he’ll have his statue put up next to Secretariat _ he’s that good.″

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