If there is one aspect of Thoroughbred racing where you can say the sport has come a long way, it is the on-air presence of so many talented female analysts and interviewers. It is an avenue that has been paved by females such as the great Charlsie Cantey, who was as knowledgeable about racing and provided as much, if not more, insight than any male before her, taking the viewer behind the scenes and into the barn with her expertise.
Cantey was followed by Sharon Smith, who brought the world of racing into the homes of ESPN viewers, and then Jeannine Edwards, who like Cantey, moved from local TV to major networks covering the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup and more, branching out to other sports.
A familiar sight during the Triple Crown and a number of major races throughout the year is Donna Barton Brothers on horseback, providing the viewer with insights on the horses and track condition before the race and interviewing the winning jockeys as they return following the race.
These are just a few of the many females that have opened the door for a new generation of TV journalists, analysts, hosts, and interviewers.
If you have followed racing the past several years you no doubt are familiar with many of these talented on-air females.
What makes this year’s Breeders’ Cup unique and provides another measure of interest to the event is that three of the most prominent of these females – Britney Eurton, Maggie Wolfendale, and Millie Ball -- have family connections to Breeders’ Cup starters.
Eurton, who auditioned for and was hired by TVG in 2014 and has rapidly grown into a network mainstay with her pre- and post-race interviews, analysis, and features, will have a pair of rooting interests in the Breeders’ Cup, with BC Turf hopeful, four-time grade II winner Ashleyluvssugar, and Juvenile Fillies starter, grade II winner and grade I-placed Champagne Room trained by her father, the veteran Peter Eurton, who took Britney and the family on a magical journey to their first Kentucky Derby in 2014 with Dance With Fate. It didn’t take Britney long to make a name for herself with her exuberance and infectious personality.
Wolfendale, daughter of trainer Howard Wolfendale who has received rave reviews for her in-depth analysis of the horses in the paddock on “Belmont Park Live” and “Saratoga Live,” as well has her post-race interviews, is married to trainer Tom Morley, who has one of the leading contenders for the Filly & Mare Sprint in Haveyougoneaway, who has won three consecutive stakes, including the grade I Ballerina Stakes and grade II Honorable Miss Stakes. Wolfendale, who is expecting the couple’s first child, is a licensed trainer herself and serves as assistant to her husband. She has amazed viewers with her astute knowledge of all the horses and their physical strengths and flaws.
British born Ball, a successful jockey and exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainers Bobby Frankel, Bob Baffert, and Richard Mandella and who worked for 12 years as host and analyst for HRTV and now for Xpressbet’s XBTV, is married to trainer Tim Yakteen, who has Zuma Beach Stakes winner Big Score in the Juvenile Turf. No one in this country provides more insight into the European invaders than Ball, and no Breeders’ Cup is complete without her updates of the latest news abroad.
If you watch TVG, the NYRA telecasts, or XBTV, you already know all three and have witnessed their excitement and sheer jubilation, as restrained as they try to make it in front of the camera, whenever Peter Eurton, Tom Morley or Tim Yakteen win a stakes race, and you have seen the look of pride on Britney’s and Maggie’s faces as they interview the winning trainer, trying their best to keep their emotions in check and remain professional.
The unadulterated joy and pride they feel goes back to Charlsie Cantey when she covered the 1980 Belmont Stakes for CBS and saw her husband Joe Cantey’s 53-1 shot Temperence Hill upset Genuine Risk. Charlsie, stationed up around the sixteenth pole, made a mad dash along the rail to get to the winner’s circle, where, after encouragement from hosts Jack Whitaker and Frank Wright, she, still out of breath, gave her husband a big kiss. It was a wonderful moment on national TV and perhaps took some of the sting out of Genuine Risk’s gallant defeat.
That was a special unrestrained moment of bliss that we could see repeated if Ashleyluvssugar, Champagne Room, Haveyougoneaway, or Big Score should win a Breeders’ Cup race.
Although they don’t have a Breeders’ Cup starter this year, a mention must also be made of Christina Blacker and her husband Dan, who trains in Southern California. Christina also is a host, analyst, and interviewer for TVG and has been one of the most popular on-air personalities for a number of years for both TVG and HRTV. Dan, a graduate of the Darley Flying Start program, also worked as an assistant to Richard Mandella, as well as Tom Albertrani, while Christina’s father, Frank Olivares, was a successful jockey who retired from the saddle in 2004 at age 54.
So we have a new generation of racing ambassadors in front of the camera, all with racing backgrounds, who provide knowledge and a vibrant on-air presence and who add a great deal to the image of the sport.
And if one of them should experience the thrill of seeing their loved one win a Breeders’ Cup race, what a glorious scene we will witness.