Donna Barton Brothers was born into horse racing. Her mother, Patti Barton, was one of the first half dozen women to be licensed as a jockey in the United States—that was in 1969. Throughout Patti Barton’s career (and until four years after her retirement) she was the leading female rider in the nation by number of wins. Patti retired from racing in 1984 with just over 1,200 wins.
Both Donna’s brother, Jerry, and sister, Leah, were jockeys but by the time Donna started riding professionally in 1987 her mother, brother and sister had all retired from riding. That’s when Donna’s racing career took off. She rode from 1987 to 1998 and retired in 1998 as the second leading female jockey in the United States by money earned. She holds that title still, with a record 1,130 wins. 1998 was also the year she married Frank Brothers, the well-known Thoroughbred trainer (since retired), conformation expert, and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
Though retired from race-riding, she was by no means ready to call it quits from her beloved horses and the sport that had been so good to her. In 1999 she began dabbling in television, providing coverage for several networks including TVG and several of the top tracks in the country. Over the years, she has covered everything from horse racing, show jumping, dressage, eventing, and bull riding, to other national and international level equestrian events for NBC and NBCSN.
Since 2000, she has been a sports analyst and commentator for the Breeder’s Cup Championships, World Equestrian Games, PBR World Championships, Kentucky Land Rover (Rolex) Three Day Event, the Triple Crown races and more, for NBC and NBC Sports Network. To date, she has covered 19 Kentucky Derbies, including the historic victories that took place in 2015 when American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown for the first time in 37 years, followed three years later by Justify’s domination of the Triple Crown races in 2018!
As a result of her involvement in the television coverage of horse racing and having realized during that time just how confusing the everyday lingo of the racetrack can be for program viewers, Brothers decided there was a gap that needed to be filled. She filled that gap by writing her book, Inside Track: Insider’s Guide to Horse Racing, which she published in 2011. Geared towards bridging the gap between novice horse racing fans, and the sometimes complicated ins and outs of the sport of thoroughbred racing, the book is now in its second printing.
In 2014, Donna was honored by Sport’s Illustrated Magazine, when she was awarded Best Sideline Reporter of the year for the trademark qualities that make her so beloved by her fans. She’s approachable, and she’s always on-point with her interviews, delivering relatable facts that her viewers care about.
“Brothers plies her trade not on the sidelines but on a saddle, as NBC’s on-track reporter for horse racing. Year after year, she does excellent work, interviewing jockeys before and after Triple Crown races, always with an eye toward providing information for viewers.”
She currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Starlight and StarLadies Racing (read more about these partnerships on her Racing Partnerships page) and remains an active ambassador for horse racing, the sport she has been involved with since her earliest memory.
But life cannot be all about work! That’s where the wine comes in…and the clean living! Donna’s passion for health and wellness began in 1988, shortly after becoming a jockey and realizing that as a paid professional athlete it was her responsibility to show up as the best version of herself. With her thumb always on the pulse of what’s new and exciting in the health and wellness genre, her most recent passion is Scout & Cellar wines. Most wines didn’t sit well with her and so she just didn’t drink it. Find out more about this here.
Little known fact: Donna received her certification to teach Bikram Yoga in 2016 and has practiced yoga for 23 years. She started working out when she became a jockey, as a way to be as strong and fit as her (mostly male) competitors, but loved the feeling of feeling well! And so her workouts have continued: yoga, weight-training, spinning, sculpting… you name it. Like she says on her Healthy Living page, it’s not about “looking good” it’s about “living good”! (Yes, she knows that it’s living “well” but it didn’t quite work here as well as “good” did.)
A big believer in giving back, she also takes an active role in the community in multiple roles from advocating for thoroughbred aftercare to children’s foster and support services. Donna currently serves on the Executive Boards of both the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation. She is a member of the advisory boards of both the Boys & Girls Haven and the University of Kentucky Research Department’s Jockey and Equestrian Initiative. As a former Board member of the Backside Learning Center (at Churchill Downs) she continues to serve on the planning committees of their largest annual fundraisers.
When she’s not on location, or in meetings, she loves to spend time with her two dogs and her husband, Frank (not necessarily in that order!) She also skis, is always reading something, and loves to travel. In the past few years she’s been to Italy (three times), France, Spain, South Africa, Costa Rica (twice), Geneva, and many, many points around the United States, often while covering many of the nationally televised equestrian events. One of her favorite things of all is when she gets to teach yoga on a volunteer basis at Maryhurst in Louisville, KY, a home for misplaced young girls (age 11-19), and a place very near and dear to her.