LEXINGTON, Ky. — It's dollars to doughnuts that Chris Antley won't ride a winner at Aqueduct today.
It's impossible for Antley to win a race in New York because he is at Keeneland, to ride Dispersal in the $100,000 Lexington Stakes, and Aqueduct isn't open today.
But then again, Antley has been doing the impossible for 10 weeks, winning at least one race a day at Aqueduct for the last 60 days he has ridden there. Footnotes are needed to qualify this unprecedented streak but by any standard, Antley is giving New Yorkers the most extraordinary stretch of race riding since teen-aged Steve Cauthen was clicking off winners there 12 years ago.
And what makes the streak more exceptional is that it started on Feb. 8, two weeks after Antley's return from serving a two-month suspension for drug use. Antley, 23, tested positive for cocaine at Aqueduct late in November--his third violation for drugs or alcohol in about two years--and spent a month in a rehabilitation program before track stewards lifted the suspension.
Antley immediately began winning races in clusters, in a fashion that reminded California stewards of Pat Valenzuela, another troubled jockey who has repeatedly been able to quickly resume winning after prolonged absences.
His second day back, in late January, Antley won two races. He had several good days after that, but starting on Feb. 8, when he rode the entire nine-race card at Aqueduct and won twice, he has been unstoppable.
Antley has ridden out of town four times--without winning--during the streak, occasions when he's involved in stakes races and doesn't get as many mounts as he usually would in New York. The astonishing part about the streak is the number of multiple-win days Antley has had. On only 13 days has he won just one race. He has had one five-win day, eight days with four wins, 16 three-win days and 19 two-win days.
In a sport that considers .200 an exceptional average, Antley has won with 141 of 450 mounts for a .319 average. Antley's lifetime winning percentage was .184 going into this year.
Although there is no real basis for comparison, when the streak reached 56 days last week, it was compared with Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak in 1941, and New York officials even put a Yankee cap on Antley's head in the winner's circle. But there is one valid parallel--DiMaggio, like Antley, didn't just coast along in 1941. He had lots of multiple-hit games during his streak and wound up batting .357 that season.
"When I hit 56, I thought I might meet Joe DiMaggio," Antley said. Born about 15 years after the Yankee Clipper's career ended, Antley thought that DiMaggio was a long-ago jockey until the ballplayer was identified to him a few weeks ago.
Chris Wiley Antley, who was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and began riding at unrecognized bush tracks in South Carolina in his teens, has always been a streaky jockey. He was 17 when he rode his first winner at Pimlico in the summer of 1983.
Maryland trainers saw that Antley could ride, and he graduated to the tougher New Jersey circuit after a couple of years. Then he moved to New York at the end of 1986.
In 1985, Antley was the national leader in races won with 469. That was the year he won eight races in one day, five at Monmouth Park in the afternoon and three at Garden State Park at night. In 1987, Antley became the only jockey to win nine times in a day, doing a four-win matinee at Aqueduct and winning five more at New Jersey's Meadowlands that night.
Still, some said Antley lacked consistency. He occasionally rode prominent horses, such as Lady's Secret and Bet Twice, but never regularly.
He got his biggest opportunity for national attention when he rode Private Terms in the Kentucky Derby. Private Terms won the Wood Memorial and went into the Derby undefeated in seven races. Sent off a slight 3-1 favorite over the eventual winner, Winning Colors, Private Terms finished a badly beaten ninth. He bled internally after the Preakness two weeks later, and Antley suspects that the bleeding problem might have started in the Derby.
This year, Antley didn't expect to get a Derby mount. Trainers haven't been known to reserve emerging 3-year-olds for jockeys with drug problems. Early last week, Antley said he would be spending Derby day--May 6--at Aqueduct, riding On the Line, a crack sprinter, in the Carter Handicap.
But Bud Delp, who trains Dispersal, was unhappy with Jose Santos' ride on the second-place finisher in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and contacted Drew Mollica, Antley's agent. If Dispersal runs well here today, he and Antley will be in the Derby.
Ron Franklin, who won the Derby and Preakness for Delp on Spectacular Bid in 1979, also developed a cocaine habit. In fact, Franklin said he was introduced to the drug at a party a few hours after Spectacular Bid's Preakness. Franklin is trying to put his life and career back together in Maryland, where he still rides a few horses for Delp.