The warm sun soothes a December morning's chill as Charlsie Cantey confidently exercises one of her horses on the Laurel Park track.
Her approach to the training is the same as it is for her commentary on nationally prominent thoroughbred racing events: hands-on and serious.
"She is an excellent horsewoman who's very good to her help," said Vita Licari, Cantey's right-hand woman and assistant trainer.
"I've been in this business for 22 years. I worked for her ex-husband [Joe Cantey] with Cox's Ridge and other good horses and she's the best I ever worked for. When Charlsie retires, I'm out of this business."
Such is the fondness Cantey's aides hold for a relative newcomer to training who was, at first, a reluctant entry.
"I had been around the track for a long time before becoming a trainer," said Cantey. "I knew how hard it was to make ends meet and that once you got on the merry-go-round, it was hard to step off.
"It is a huge commitment physically, mentally and emotionally and it's tough to have another life. I wrestled with those facts for a long time. But I just wanted so much to try my hand and here I am."
Cantey's stable at Laurel is mid-sized and she likes it that way. She has no intention of becoming an assembly-line operation.
Horses come and go through acquisitions by owners and claims by rival trainers, but Cantey never intends to get too big.
"I'd love to have 20 to 25," said Cantey, who is about halfway to her goal. "I think that is manageable. I don't want to go back and forth between several operations."
She works each of her horses herself at least once a week and takes pride in knowing their individual personalities.
"I don't want the fun to go out of this," she said. "This way, you can give each horse individual care and treat them in a detailed manner. You have personal contact with each horse and each owner.
"I do have the luxury of being selective, and to me it's very satisfying to look down the shedrow and know you've given every horse your best."
A native North Carolinian, Cantey graduated from George Washington University after dabbling in show horses as a teen-ager.
She was galloping at Middleburg, Va., a show-horse mecca, then "got into race horses and I was totally smitten."
This was the late '60s -- before women were established in the sport -- and she couldn't find a job galloping at Delaware Park.
So, she went to New York, secured work from trainer Sidney Watters and "never had any trouble after that. This was way before girls had licenses."
Her marriage to Joe Cantey helped bring her into the forefront and she also learned the business from one of the nation's best, Frank Whiteley.
"Frank and Joe both knew every little nuance about their horses," she said.
Long before she became a trainer here, Charlsie Cantey was training horses unofficially.
The first official winner came July 27, 1996, at Pimlico. Special Surprise won a 5 1/2 -furlong maiden race and paid $56.60 straight.
"I guess I was more relieved than excited," said Cantey. "It all became a reality that day. I said, 'I think I can do this.' I had had a bunch of seconds and third, but I thought I was never going to win."
She has since won her share for a variety of owners with many different jockeys. "I like to get riders who fit the horse," Cantey said. "Of course, right now you prefer Edgar [Prado], but you can't get him.
"So, I've used Al Cortez, who was helping me work some horses, [Mark] Rosenthal who fits Heart Minder like a glove and I've had good luck with Mark Johnston."
She's had 14 winners since getting her license in 1996. "This is not an easy circuit to start on," said Berkley Kern, a longtime Maryland trainer. "She isn't getting any breaks because she's on TV."
No longer, however, does Cantey fret over whether she was ready for the challenge of training.
"I've gotten more confident," she said. "I'm more sure of the decisions I'm making and that I'm on target. I feel I know where my horses are. It's coming easier. For the horses I've gotten, I'm doing pretty well. I feel they're consistent."
Cantey's television assignments with ABC-TV and ESPN provide for an even more hectic lifestyle, but she does not find them a problem because Licari takes care of the store when she's away.
"I know things are tended to when I'm gone," said Cantey. "Vita has worked for Joe, trained horses, managed broodmares. Everybody needs someone like her. She's the enforcer. And my grooms are good.
"There are times when it bothers me not to be here when a horse is running, but I know nothing is disrupted."
She is trying to confine her media work to the Triple Crown series, Wood Memorial and Florida Derby [all carried by ABC] and several spot assignments.
"Those are not difficult shows. I'm already here for the Preakness and New York is not a tough trip," she said. "And I have good owners who understand that I'm missing a minimum amount of time."
4 For now at least, Cantey is content in Maryland.
"I like it here. I'm familiar with the area and I have an inexplicable fondness for Pimlico," she said. "You kind of have the best of both worlds with two metropolitan areas, the country and the seashore all easy to get to."
Another plus is that a trainer can ship to a variety of race tracks on a one-day basis -- Charles Town, Delaware Park, the New Jersey tracks and Philadelphia Park.
"And I really liked Colonial Downs," she said. "The only problem was no turf racing last fall."
She said the paperwork is the drawback.
"You have to go through about 12 condition books. That isn't my favorite part."
Pub Date: 12/24/97