06/30/2011 11:48AM

Q&A: Donna Brothers

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NBC Sports

Known for her work as a horse-backing reporter on the NBC Sports broadcasts of the Triple Crown and other big races, Brothers, 45, also had a 12-year career as a jockey, winning 1,130 races before retiring in 1998.

Family: Her husband, Frankie Brothers, is a former trainer. Her mother, Patti, won 1,202 races as a jockey. Her sister Leah and brother Jerry also rode competitively.

Residence: Indian Hills, Ky., near Louisville

You have had a unique view of some of racing’s biggest events out there on the racetrack. What are some of your most memorable moments in that capacity? When Calvin Borel won his first Derby on Street Sense (in 2007), I had three or four questions that I had written down in case he won. Obviously, it was an emotional win for him, and I got so caught up in his story that I never used any of the questions I’d prepared. When I threw it back to Tom Hammond, I thought, “I am so fired! That’s the worst interview ever!” But in hindsight it didn’t matter. I recognized how important it is to be “in the moment.” And it’s pretty amazing to be a part of all that.

When Big Brown won the Derby (in 2008), the most devastating thing was to see Eight Belles collapse. I watched the first leg break, then the second. For anybody who loves horses, that’s really hard. It was really difficult for me to keep it together, but I know what my job is, so getting too emotional is someplace I just can’t go. It sure wouldn’t look very professional if they came to me, and I was bawling.

If you could change the outcome of just one race you rode in, would you have Hennessy holding off Unbridled’s Song in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park to make you the first woman jockey to win a BC race? That is the race I would take back. Funny thing is, when I stood up at the wire, I said, “I didn’t even know Phipps had a horse in the race!” Of course, the silks for Paraneck Stable were very similar to the Phipps Stable (black and red).

I’ve gone back and watched that race a bunch. I knew going in that Belmont wasn’t a track I was familiar with. Julie Krone and I were really good friends, and we’d talked about how important it was to save horse. She was on the lead in the turn, and I had a ton under me, and when I finally went by her she said, “Wait! It’s a long track!” And I said OK. So I’m waiting and waiting and waiting, and we still get beat in a photo. I still don’t know what I could’ve done differently to win.

You work out regularly in a gym and are very health-conscious with what you eat. Do you weigh even less now than when you rode? I weigh about eight pounds less, and that’s strictly because I have a lot less muscle weight now than when I was a jockey. I know that people look at me and think, “She’s too thin.” But when I was riding, if I wanted to wear a sleeveless dress, I wouldn’t look feminine at all. Honestly, I’m glad to have eight pounds less of muscle. You don’t need to have those muscles to be a reporter.

Do you ever bet? And do you think the people making race selections on television should bet so they can empathize with the betting public? I usually do bet if I’m at the races all day. Not every race every day is going to be that exciting, so it keeps you more interested if you have a little bet going. I never bet more than I plan on losing.

I definitely think there are times when we as broadcasters lose sight of the fact that it is a gambling industry and not just a horse lover’s industry. When Gary Stevens and I were talking about how Shackleford was acting up before the Preakness, we were basically saying, “Would you want to go to the window on this horse, seeing how he is acting?” No! Even though he won, he did not go to the gate ideally, and right or wrong, that’s the kind of point we try to make for the public. We do try to be cognizant of the bettors, and maybe we should be even more so.

You are very self-disciplined, your marriage seems ideal, and to an outsider your life just seems . . . perfect. Please tell us it’s not. I really don’t have anything to complain about. Everyone knows that Frankie is just a good man. In 1993, when we were in Chicago and we’d been seeing each other for two weeks, I told my sister about how nice he was, and she said, “There’s no way this can last,” and I agreed. So Frankie and I were out to dinner, and I said, “I really don’t want this whole bait-and-switch thing. Will you please just start acting now like you will in six months or a year?” And he said, “OK, sweetie.” And he’s just been the same way all these years.

While it may appear from the outside that Frankie and I have a perfect life, it has not come without a high cost. We made a conscious decision not to have children – not because we didn’t like kids, to the contrary, we both love them – but because we didn’t feel like we could live out our lives and careers on the track well and, simultaneously, do a good job of raising children.

We were lucky in finding one another – two people dedicated to our careers – but this is our life. No kids, no hobbies outside of racing, and no world tour cruises to remember. We have no regrets, granted, but “perfect life” would surely be in the eye of the beholder.

Do you ever feel the urge to unretire and get back out there in competition? I was asked to do that ladies’ challenge they’ve started at Pimlico, and I’ve had to say, “No thanks, those days are behind me.” I’ve never lost sight of the fact that you have to be able to accept the whole package when you’re a rider. You get up at 4:30 a.m. seven days a week, and you do things you don’t want to do just so you can land that occasional Lord Carson, Country Cat, or Hennessy.

Also, there’s the fact that riding is dangerous. You’re trying to repress that, to bury it. There must be a part of my brain that says I just don’t want to do that anymore.

Are we going to keep seeing you on TV for the next, say, 20 years? I can see why Charlsie Cantey retired at 60. She did a great job, she was beautiful, people valued her opinion, and everyone liked her. And still when she hit 60 she said, “Nope, that’s it.” I can see why she said that. Maybe I’ll go on another 15 years, maybe not, but I’m sure it won’t be beyond that. Most likely I’ll quit when I’m no longer in touch with the people in the sport. Today, many of them are still my contemporaries, but when that’s no longer the case, I probably won’t have the desire to keep going.