One thing a little different about Charlsie Cantey is her name. No, it's not a nickname.
Her father, Charles Oscar, chose the name. He already had two daughters and was planning on a son, whom he was going to name after himself. Well, things didn't quite go according to plan, so little Charlie became Charlsie.
Oh well, at least she wasn't named Oscarina.
Another thing that sets Charlsie Cantey apart is the way she became a network sports commentator. She got there, you might say, on horseback.
In 1975, she was an exercise rider at Belmont Park in New York and the wife of a trainer, Joe Cantey. A public relations man for the New York Racing Assn., Frank Tours, suggested that she try out for a spot on a nightly racing show the organization produced for television station WOR.
Dave Johnson and trainer Frank Wright were the hosts, and the NYRA was looking for a woman to join them.
"Me on TV?" Cantey said she told Tours. "You must be crazy."
Tours talked her into it and she did so well on her first show that she was made a permanent part of it. That led to CBS hiring her as a horse racing commentator in 1977 and Thoroughbred Sports later using her on their package of races on ESPN.
Two years ago, when CBS got out of horse racing, ABC signed Cantey, and her star status continued to grow with her involvement in the Triple Crown series.
Saturday, she'll be paired with Jim McKay during ABC's coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Others working the event for ABC will be Jack Whitaker, Al Michaels, Lynn Swann and Dave Johnson, who will also call the race.
The coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. PDT, with post time set for 2:38 p.m.
Those familiar with horse racing often think of Cantey working atop a horse. CBS usually put her on a horse and had her interview race winners immediately after the finish, while they were still on the track.
During the Triple Crown races last year, ABC went one step farther. The network also put a miniature camera on her helmet to give viewers "up-close and personal" pictures of the winner.
Nice idea, but it didn't work out too well.
"Having that camera on my helmet really made it tough," Cantey said during a phone interview this week. "It was hard enough to rush up to a winner after having not seen the race and try and ask intelligent questions.
"But to also have to worry about that camera . . . well, it was just impossible. Imagine trying to conduct an interview while, at the same time, a director is telling you, 'Tilt up, tilt left . . . ' "
Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. has dumped the miniature camera and the horseback interview while, at the same time, expanding Cantey's role. By keeping her on the ground, she'll have more time for commentary.
Although Cantey was never fond of those horseback interviews, she said one of them left her with a special memory of the 1985 Marlboro Cup, when Chief's Crown won with Don MacBeth aboard.
Earlier that year, MacBeth was hit with a 10-day suspension for "careless riding" after taking Chief's Crown to a victory in the Flamingo. Many thought the penalty was unjustified.
Then, after Chief's Crown ran third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness, Angel Cordero was put on the horse for the Belmont, where he finished third, and later Cordero rode him to victory in the Travers.
"For Don, one of the greatest guys I have ever known and a dear friend, to come back and win the Marlboro with Chief's Crown was really something," Cantey said. "When I rode up to him, there were tears rolling down his cheeks. It was a very special moment, one I will always cherish."
MacBeth received the George Woolf Award at Santa Anita earlier this year and, eight days later, on March 1, died of cancer.
Cantey says she was born obsessed with horses. "I can't explain it, I've just always loved horses," she said. "It wasn't a case of me growing up on a horse farm or anything like that. We lived in town and my father was in the heavy equipment business."
Home to Cantey was Raleigh, N.C.
She got her first riding lesson at 7 and her first horse, a show horse, at 12. Showing horses occupied her teen years and beyond.
She graduated from George Washington University in Washington in 1968 with a degree in art history and "not knowing what I wanted to do."
That summer, she visited some friends who were working at a horse training center in Middleburg, Va.
"I thought, 'You mean you can get paid for riding horses?' " she said.
That thought led to a job as a exercise rider at a small half-mile track at Charles Town, W.Va., and then on to Delaware Park and eventually Belmont.
At Belmont, she got to know husband-to-be Joe, whom she met years before while showing horses.
Both have enjoyed successful careers. Joe Cantey trained Temperence Hill, winner of the Belmont and Travers in 1980 and the sire of Charlie Whittingham-trained Temperate Sil.