Bird No Upset Compared to Chris Antley in 1999
Burton DeWitt Co-Editor of Sportscolumn.com
Sunday, May 3, 2009 - Mine That Bird should not have been in the Derby,
flat-out had no business being there.
Shipped in from Sunland Park, a tiny B-circuit in New Mexico, after
twice losing a race there. Twice.
I wrote last week on a forum, ďIf Bennie Woolley enters him in the
Derby, he should lose his license! Permanently!Ē
The horse had no form, none whatsoever.
Heck, if the race was ran on the pages of the Daily Racing Form, Mine
That Bird might still be out on the track, trying vainly to finish.
But, of course, itís not, and Mine That Bird and Calvin Borel skidded
the rail in the slop to a stunning, 6 and ĺ length victory, the
largest winning margin in the Kentucky Derby since Texas-bred Assault
Assault went on to win the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes,
becoming the 7th Triple Crown winner in American thoroughbred racing.
And Iíve heard all sorts of comparisons since.
A guy who accidentally got placed in the first tier of the New York
Marathon, and winning it; a boxer losing a bunch of fights to
nobodies, then being brought into a fight with the world champion in a
supposed walkover and winning; a Floridian winning the Iditarod while
on vacation to Alaska.
Or, my personal favorite.
Itís like Charleston Southern going to the Swamp and beating the
Florida Gators by four touchdowns.
And you know what, I donít think any of those are too far from the
truth. This horse had no business being in this field, at all.
Maybe Iím bitter because I lost a bit of money on my first trip to
Churchill Downs; maybe itís because of what I wrote last week about
the trainer; maybe Iím just in denial, but Iím not going to write
anymore about this race. Iím done with my trip to Louisville.
No, the rest of the turf media can write about that.
I want to talk about the human aspect of the sport, and thereís no
better time to do that then now.
This year was the 10th anniversary of Charismaticís 31-1 shocker in
the 125th Kentucky Derby. Sure, it was not of the same calibre of
ďshockerĒ as this year, but itís up there.
D. Wayne Lukasís three-year old chestnut colt had not done much.
He had been entered in a claiming race just a few months before and
needed to win the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland just 14 days before
the Kentucky Derby in order to secure enough graded stakes earnings to
even get a spot in the Derby field.
But none of that deals with the human aspect of the Kentucky Derby.
Thatís just an interesting sidenote.
Charismaticís jockey, Chris Antley, is a story in and of himself. A
lesson, a message. Heís everything a jockey wants to be, and nothing.
Heís a tragedy and a hero, a martyr and a villain.
It doesnít really matter which part of the story I start with. It
really doesnít. Itís still the same person. So Iíll start with 1999,
but work in both directions.
There Antley was again, at the top of his game. Again, the key word.
In 1991, Antley piloted Strike the Gold to triumph in the Run for the
Roses. It was just another in a string of big victories for the
25-year old jockey from South Florida.
He had previously won such Grade I stakes as the Manhattan Handicap,
the Wood Memorial Stakes, and the Carter Handicap, dominating the New
Antley also left the state from time to time, winning major stakes at
tracks like Ak-Sar-Ben in Nebraska, Monmouth in New Jersey, Keeneland
in Kentucky, and Hawthorne in Illinois.
But by 1999, that was all in the past. Gone. Only 33, he was already
washed up, scrambling for mounts, nobodyís top call jockey.
He had battled weight and drug problems. If he was sober enough to get
to the track, he was hardly close enough to his weight to actually be
a top rider.
The scant 108 pounds, the amount a jockey is expected to weigh, was a
While he once won nine races on one card, now there were times heíd be
lucky to win nine races in a month.
In 1985, the young apprentice won more races than any other jockey in
the country. In 1997, he decided to retire.
ďI didnít like me,Ē Antley said in 1999 in retrospect of his early
retirement. ďI clung to my persona around the race track that I was
always the bad boy.
ďThat was how I felt about myself.Ē
To say Antley was down and out would be an understatement. He was past
either of those conditions.
Then, miraculously, Antley got things together. Miraculously indeed.
He entered drug rehab in Nov., 1997, and possibly he would be able to
get his life together after all.
By late 1998, Antley was more than seven years removed from the top of
his sport. However, he decided to return.
He started galloping horses out at Hollywood Park in California at the
beginning of July. Once he got his weight down, he decided to ride
And luckily, at least for both of them, Lukas gave Antley a shot on
Charismatic, and it paid off big-time.
After his win in the Derby, Antley guided Charismatic to another
long-shot win in the Preakness Stakes, putting him one win away from
capping his great comeback with a Triple Crown triumph.
No horse had won all three legs of the Triple Crown since Affirmed
became the 11th in 1978; 21 years later, here was Chris Antley.
And everything was going brilliantly in the Belmont. The world seemed
poised for a Triple Crown winner as Dave Johnson bellowed on ABC ďAnd
down the stretch they come!Ē
But the fragility of a horse, whether a champion like Charismatic or a
nobody like, well, Charismatic just a couple months before, can never
be underestimated. Never.
Charismatic turned for home with a great chance to take the win. At
the eighth poll, he even surged to the lead.
Then, Antley felt something different. Charismaticís gallop was not
the same. There was something wrong with his left front hoof.
Antley eased Charismatic and slowed him down as quick as he could,
finally getting the horse to be slow enough that he could jump off
right past the wire and keep control of Charismatic so he did not run
off and injure it anymore.
He lifted the hoof off the ground and held it until medical attention
could be found.
Antley, instead of winning the Triple Crown, became even more of a
hero than anyone could have ever dreamed. While we will never know the
alternative, it is possible that Antley saved Charismaticís life.
But every hero has to fall at some point.
The thing about Antley is, just like after he won the Derby in 1991,
the fall would be sudden. Unlike before, however, this time it would
In March 2000, Antley would again walk away from his sport, this time
to deal with renovating his house. A few months later, his wife became
pregnant with the coupleís first child.
Then, on July 26, Antley was arrested for drunk driving. He was
sentenced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but he never once
This was only the beginning.
On September 28, his wife, who was in New York working for NBC, called
police fearing something was wrong because she could not get in touch
with her husband at their home in Pasadena, Calif.
The police went to Antleyís house and found him and a friend with
methamphetamine and marijuana. He was arrested, but no charges were
filed because it was deemed an inadmissible search and seizure.
16 months after returning to the pinnacle of his sport, this time as a
jovial, happy-go-lucky, lively jockey, Antley was teetering with
self-destruction for the second time in three years.
Everyone around him realized that something was wrong as he continued
to spin into a depression that required him to drink almost 24-7.
His wife scheduled a couple interventions, and even fellow jockey Gary
Stevens came out to try and help Antley out of it at the beginning of
ďHe was very quiet, very sad, and very paranoid,Ē Stevens said later.
ďFor whatever reason, he was living in a 24-hour-a-day nightmare that
he couldnít wake up from.Ē
Nobody around could disagree.
ďWhen I left, Chris was crying and I was crying.
ďI didnít think Iíd ever see Chris again.Ē
And Stevens was right.
Antley died less than a month later, on Dec. 2, 2000 in his California
home. He was only 34.
Police originally investigated into it being a homicide, but ruled on
Jan. 11, 2001 that the former jockey had died as a result of an
Just a few hours after the ruling, Antleyís wife gave birth to Violet
Grace Antley, Antleyís first daughter.
Take whatever lesson you want out of that story; there are so many.
Thereís no need for me to preach because I donít know which part
touches you the most.
But Iíd be wrong not to tell you which touches me.
It has been 10 years since Chris Antley won the Kentucky Derby and
eight and a half since he died, but itís the 10 that speaks to me.
No matter how down I become, no matter how far I fall from my
pinnacle, glory can always be just a few months away. Antley rose
almost overnight to recapture his glory.
If you think Mine That Bird was a shocking upset, then you are
forgetting 1999. That might have been the biggest upset of them all.
Not Charismatic, but Chris Antley.
Thatís an underdog Iím not ashamed to remember.
About the Author
I have written for SportsColumn.com since 2004 and was named a
featured writer in 2006. I have been Co-Editor of the site since
January 1, 2009. I also write for BleacherReport.com where I am a
founding member of the Tennis Roundtable and one of the chief
contributors to both the Tennis and Horse Racing sections. I am "Stat
Boy" for Sportscolumn.com's weekly podcast, Poor Man's PTI. I am
currently a Junior at Rice University majoring in History and Medieval
Studies. My senior thesis will focus on the desegregation of football
in Texas and its affect of racial relations. Please direct all
inquiries to email@example.com. Thanks, Burton DeWitt Co-Editor