01/24/2006 1:00AM

At home on TV or horseback

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"I always sweat it out a little when working a horse like First Samurai. . . But it's great to be part of the team when dealing with a horse of his stature" - Donna Brothers, exercise rider for First Samurai

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When former jockey Donna Barton Brothers decided last summer that she wanted to start exercising horses in the morning once again, she didn't have to look very far to find work. She just passed her impressive resume across the kitchen table to her husband, trainer Frank Brothers, and just like that she had herself a job.

"I told Frank I wanted to gallop horses again but there were stipulations," Donna Brothers recalled with a smile. "I said I didn't want to have to be at the track at 4:30 in the morning, I didn't want to get on seven or eight horses a day, and I didn't want to get on any real tough horses. He hired me anyway. And so far everything has worked out great."

Brothers, 39, whose mother, Patti Barton, was a pioneer among female riders, rode races for nearly 12 years before retiring in the fall of 1998. Generally regarded to be among the top female jockeys in the country during much of her career, she retired with 1,130 victories, the most noteworthy of which came aboard Boston Harbor for trainer D. Wayne Lukas in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes in 1996. She also finished second for Lukas aboard Hennessy in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"The last six months I rode, it seemed more like work than fun to me," she said. "Riding became a job, and because it was a job that meant there was a lot of pressure involved, and it took the enjoyment out of it. I didn't realize until I started galloping horses again last summer how much I really loved it, though. Now I don't have to go to the gym any more. And it's really nice working every morning with Frankie. After all, how many wives get to go horseback riding with their husband seven days a week?"

Shortly after retiring as a jockey, Brothers began her new career as a racing reporter and analyst. Her work included stints conducting stakes interviews at Fair Grounds, doing local reports for the TVG network, working as paddock analyst at Churchill Downs, and her most recognizable role: trackside reporter on horseback for NBC broadcasts, including the Breeders' Cup. Brothers also recently signed on as analyst for NBC's coverage of the Professional Bull Riders tour, and on Saturday she will be at Santa Anita as part of the broadcast team for NBC's Sunshine Millions telecast.

Brothers also enrolled in the University of Louisville as a psychology major during the fall of 2002. But the increasing demand for her services as a television personality made it impossible for her to continue her education.

"I was up to 15 to 20 television shows a year and it just didn't leave me enough time for school," said Brothers. "But after the Triple Crown last summer there wasn't much television work left to do, and that's when I decided to come back to the track in the mornings."

Brothers has been a regular on the racetrack during training hours at Gulfstream throughout most of the winter. Her most important assignment has been working her husband's top 3-year-old prospect, First Samurai, including last Sunday when the multiple Grade 1 winner breezed seven furlongs in 1:23.40.

"I always sweat it out a little when working a horse like First Samurai," Brothers said. "You go out hoping to hit the target time for the work, but in the end have to deal more with what's under you than how fast you're going, and there is a degree of pressure involved balancing all that out. But it's great to be part of the team when dealing with a horse of his stature."

Having a rider of Donna Brothers's ability around every morning would be a plus for any stable, and Frank Brothers is the first to admit he's got a good thing going in having his wife around the barn again.

"She's my wife and I love her, but she's also an excellent horsewoman and a great asset to the stable," Frank Brothers said. "It's also great working with her. She's got a lot of irons in the fire, but she enjoys what she's doing and that's what's most important."

Despite all the fun she's having being back in the saddle on a regular basis, Donna Brothers said she has no desire to resurrect her riding career.

"I have absolutely no urge to ride races again," said Brothers. "Not even if they offered me the mount on First Samurai."