Sunday, May 02, 1999

Derby winner, jockey beat long odds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Chris Antley and Charismatic, right, hold off Pat Day and Menifee at the finish.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        LOUISVILLE — It was a small and nondescript ID, a single word chalked onto his black boot. Ant. A nickname, ironic for a man who grew smaller to stand taller, who gained his greatest strength after losing his livelihood.

        “There was no sense looking back,” Chris Antley said.

        He was describing the last moments of his stunning Kentucky Derby victory Saturday, 18 horses chasing him and Charismatic in vain. In every other sense, there was nowhere else to look.

        “I didn't think I was coming back to racing,” he said. “I told my dad I was going to die trying, to run myself until I had given all I had.”

        As owner Bob Lewis stood in Churchill Downs' owner's box Saturday evening, yelling “Unbelievable!” with wife Beverly, he was describing their second Derby victory in three years. And the shock of a 31-1 shot winning the world's biggest race, the third-longest odds for a winner in Derby history and longest in 59 years.

  1. Charismatic (64.60, 27.80, 14.40)
  2. Menifee (8.40, 5.80)
  3. Cat Thief (5.80)
  4. Prime Timber
  5. a-Excellent Meeting
  6. Kimberlite Pipe
  7. Worldly Manner
  8. K One King
  9. Lemon Drop Kid
  10. Answer Lively
  11. a-General Challenge
  12. Ecton Park
  13. Desert Hero
  14. Stephen Got Even
  15. Valhol
  16. First American
  17. Adonis
  18. Vicar
  19. Three Ring
  Exacta (11-13) paid $727.80
  Trifecta (11-13-8) paid $5,866.20
  Superfecta (11-13-8-9) paid $24,015.50
  Pick 3 (10-1-11) paid $2,995.00
  Pick 6 (9-3-3-10-1-11) paid $12,956.90.
  Daily Double (5-11) paid $87.40.
        But there could be no longer odds than Antley had. A man who had beaten back a drug addiction in the late 1980s to win his first Derby, then overcome a grueling battle with his weight to win his second Saturday.

        He described what had happened as a dream, detail ing all the obstacles. Though the marathon training he needed earned him another nickname, Forrest Gump, this was a script Hollywood wouldn't touch: “It's too far- fetched,” Antley said.

        The horse's story was a tall-enough tale.

        It had lost seven straight races before winning the Coolmore Lexington Stakes two weeks ago at Keeneland. It had run in a pair of claiming races, in which anyone could buy the colt for a mere $62,500 if they wanted, the latter one as recent as Feb. 11.

        Saturday, with Antley riding him for the first time — the fifth different jockey in six races — Charismatic stole a Derby-record $886,200 winner's share.

        Antley, who had returned from a 15-month layoff in late February, heard from trainer D. Wayne Lukas the day before the Lexington Stakes. If Charismatic ran well under Jerry Bailey, Lukas would run this horse in the Derby, and Antley would ride him.

        The 33-year-old jockey, who won the 1991 Derby with Strike the Gold, hadn't been in this race in four years. When Charismatic rolled at Keeneland, Antley saw divine intervention.

        “The first six letters (in Charismatic) are Chris A.,” Antley said. “Miracles were made to come true.”

        Bailey had committed to ride Worldly Manner, the Dubai-trained mystery horse. Worldly Manner led at the top of the stretch. Then Bailey watched the horse he had bypassed pass him by.

        Charismatic slowly drew past Cat Thief, Lukas' other entry, then held off a hard charge by Menifee by a neck at the wire in a 2:03.29 finish. Cat Thief finished third, giving Lukas two horses in the money.

        “I had liked the way Chris looked me in the eye and said, "We'll get it done,'” Lukas said.

        Lukas would describe his jockey as a strong closer, but the wording meant much more describing Antley's comeback than Charismatic's.

        Antley had been the nation's winningest jockey in 1985 at the age of 19. He was suspend ed after testing positive for cocaine in 1988, but rebounded to race well this decade.

        But then he began to struggle with his weight. He was trying everything to make weight each day — saunas, water pills, laxatives. In August 1997, he weighed 119 and had to lose nine pounds in one day to race the next day at Saratoga.

        “My body became a sponge,” he said. “When you continue to do that, it takes the life out of you.”

        Late that year, he left the sport. He went home to Columbia, S.C., to live with his father, Les. By mid-1998, he weighed 147 pounds.

        “I almost gave up,” he said. “I came to the point where no diet would help me. I got to where if I ran and ran and ran and put no calories in my body, it had to come off me.”

        It came slowly. He began running longer distances, peaking at 25 miles per day.

        “I got the name Forrest Gump from all the people in Columbia, from the corner station to the gas station to the grocery store to the bookstore — all my little stops when I would run,” he said. “I became a regular passing member through town.”

        When he pressed too hard, he had to take off from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

        “At Christmas, I said jokingly to my dad, "Wouldn't it be great if I could come back for the Derby and win it?'” he said. “That was sarcasm.”

        But also prophecy.

        “I became a big boy this past year,” Antley said. “I grew, in a latter stage of my life.”

        Lukas was a nice story Saturday, too. He became the third trainer to win four Derbies, marking his 11th victory in a Triple Crown race. He tied H.J. “Derby Dick” Thompson with four Derbies, and now trails only Ben Jones' six.

        Not bad on a week he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

        But Antley was the one besieged Saturday, incredulous reporters asking the same questions. How could this be? How do you feel?

        Antley's blue-green eyes grew moist each time. “It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I want to go home and think about it.”

        Savor it. And keep riding.

        “God gave me the Kentucky Derby today,” Antley said. “I don't know how to thank him.”

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