Chris Antley, who was found dead in his Pasadena house last Saturday night at age 34, was one of the most enigmatic figures in horse racing. Undeniably brilliant and engaging at the track, he was maddeningly erratic and withdrawn away from it, often disappearing for long stretches to wage battles with depression, weight gain and cocaine abuse. The way he died—from severe trauma to the head, the victim of an apparent homicide—only adds to the cloak of mystery that enshrouded his life. "He had Howard Hughes qualities," says Drew Mollica, Antley's agent in the late 1980s. "Professionally he was an angel, but he could disappear and go stealth very quickly."
When Antley piloted Charismatic to the brink of the Triple Crown in 1999, he seemed to have put his troubles behind him, but that wasn't the case. He missed four months with a knee injury, and when he returned to racing last February, he struggled with his diet. In March he split with his agent of four years, Ron Anderson, and soon thereafter, claiming he was 10 pounds over his racing weight of 117, he walked away from the track.
In April, Antley married Natalie Jowett, an ABC Sports producer he had met during his pursuit of the '99 Triple Crown. Sources close to Antley say the marriage left him wondering if there might be more to life than riding horses. On the backstretch, however, there were rumors that Antley had again succumbed to drugs. In 1998 he pleaded guilty to a charge of being under the influence of a controlled substance, and in July he was found guilty on a drunk-driving charge. Pasadena police said that twice this fall they made contact with him, in September regarding a possible narcotics violation and in October for unspecified reasons.
While saying that there were no suspects yet in Antley's death, Pasadena police on Sunday arrested an associate of Antley's, Timothy Wyman Tyler Jr., 24, on an outstanding warrant. One of Antley's neighbors said Tyler, who has a history of drug arrests, had been a frequent visitor to Antley's house.
With two Kentucky Derby victories and more than 3,000 winners, Antley's place in racing history is secure. Sadly, he won't be around to attend to the most important of his legacies. Later this month Natalie Antley is scheduled to deliver their child, a baby girl. "He was a perfect rider," says Mollica. "This is a tragic end to a very tortured and tormented life."