DONNA BARTON BROTHERS was born with racing in her blood.  Her mother, Patti Barton ( SEE PATTI BARTON IN A WIN PHOTO WITH 6 YEAR OLD DONNA), was one of the first half-dozen women to be licensed as a jockey in the United States--that was 1969.  That was also the year that she won more races than of her female counterparts and was hailed as the leading female jockey in the nation.  She held that distinction through 1988 even though she retired in 1984--she was that far ahead of any other female jockeys in terms of races won.  Donna’s father, Charlie Barton, was a rough-stock rider on the rodeo circuit and a horse shoer.  Both of Donna’s siblings, Leah and Jerry, were also professional jockeys.  By 1987 when Donna embarked on a career as a jockey, her mother and both of her siblings had retired from the profession.

Brothers rode her first race in Birmingham, Alabama during their inaugural season.  Between 1987 and 1998, she rode at Birmingham Turf Club, Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs, Canterbury Park, Remington Park, Turf Paradise, Arlington Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Hialeah, Calder, Turfway Park, Ellis Park, Dueling Grounds (now Kentucky Downs), Monmouth Park, Belmont Park, and Saratoga—to name a few.  She rode for 11 ½ years and retired in 1998 as the second leading female jockey in the country by money earned after having won 1,171 races.

It was also in 1998 that she began dabbling in on-air horse racing coverage with Television Games Network (TVG), ESPN, and the Fairgrounds Race Course in the fall of 1998 and then worked for Churchill Downs as an on-air racing analyst and handicapper from 1999 through 2003.

In 2000 she began working for NBC Sports as their on-track reporter and racing analyst on their thoroughbred horse racing shows and has since covered the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup among many other thoroughbred horse racing events and races and for NBC Sports.  She has also covered the Hambletonian Stakes, the Rolex Three Day Event, the World Equestrian Games, the AQHA World Championship Show, and Professional Bull Riding (PBR) for that network and, additionally, still covers horse racing for TVG. 

It was the leap from riding to on-air commentary that proved as the initiative to write INSIDE TRACK .  As she puts it: 

In doing the television coverage I realized that the racetrack has a language all it’s own and using this language without an explanation made our sport seem too complicated--and it’s really not that complicated, it’s just a matter of learning the lingo and, of course, how to read the past performances.  Plus, going to the racetrack for the first time can be intimidating before you ever walk out of the door.  For instance, what to wear?  It’s a little like receiving an invitation to a party that you’d like to go to but you won’t really know many people there and the invitation doesn’t have “attire” written on it.  Especially for women, this can be tricky and, again, has you feeling lost before you ever begin.

And then the language: we throw around words like “58 flat”; “blew the turn”; “looked like Secretariat”; etc. like everyone will know what we mean.  But does “58 flat” mean 58 and no fractional time or does it mean that this was a “flat” work?  And is 58 fast or slow?  With no frame of reference, how would you know?  And “blew the turn” could sound like it means either bolted on the turn and didn’t quite make it or went really fast around the turn.  And “looked like Secretariat”, does that mean the horse was a chestnut, just like the Big Red Machine, or does it mean he ran impressively?  

In any case, I think of this book like a guide book (some people have said it’s ‘like having the Zagat’s Guide to Horse Racing’).  If you’ve lived in Paris for 10 years, you don’t need a guide book but if you’re new to Paris or haven’t been in a very long time, a guide book can come in very handy.  If you’re a huge horse racing fan and you know the sport inside and out, this book is not for you.  But if there’s someone you enjoy spending time with who, conversely, does not enjoy spending a day at the track, this book is for them.  My hope is that it will help the inexperienced or first-time race goer see what it is that we love about this sport and, in turn, love it too.”

HORSE RACING BLOG: Riding a Horse and Carrying a Microphone