In­side NBC an­a­lyst’s close con­nec­tion to Jus­tify

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - HORSE RACING - Dan Wolken

EL­MONT, N.Y. – When she’s in­ter­view­ing the win­ning jockey from horse­back af­ter a big race, Donna Bar­ton Broth­ers be­lieves her job is to help con­vey the emo­tion of the mo­ment for NBC’s au­di­ence and, es­sen­tially, get out of the way.

If Jus­tify wins the Triple Crown, her in­ter­view with Mike Smith will prob­a­bly not seem much dif­fer­ent than it was three years ago when she was the first to speak with Amer­i­can Pharoah’s rider Vic­tor Espinoza.

But Broth­ers has a unique per­spec­tive on the Jus­tify story and the joy it could bring to his own­ers Satur­day be­cause, in her other job away from the tele­vi­sion cam­eras, she’s tech­ni­cally part of the team.

Al­though Broth­ers is well known to rac­ing fans as a suc­cess­ful jockey in the 1990s and now the on-track re­porter for NBC’s horse rac­ing cov­er­age, she also car­ries a ti­tle as the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for Starlight Rac­ing, a part­ner­ship group that owns a re­ported 15% share in Jus­tify’s rac­ing ca­reer. Her hus­band, for­mer trainer Frank Broth­ers, is the pri­mary blood­stock agent for Starlight, mean­ing he se­lects many of the horses the group buys at auc­tion.

While Broth­ers says that con­nec­tion has lit­tle to do with her re­port­ing role, it il­lus­trates the rip­ple ef­fect of Jus­tify’s com­plex own­er­ship sit­u­a­tion, which could bring as many as 400 peo­ple from var­i­ous sec­tors of the horse rac­ing in­dus­try into the win­ner’s cir­cle if he takes the Belmont Stakes.

“What I do is part­ner­ship de­vel­op­ment and part­ner re­la­tions, so it’s my job to make sure (the in­vestors) are happy,” Broth­ers said. “I think we have some­thing like 65 Starlight part­ners, and we only have about 10 or 12 in that horse, but once they bring their spouses and fam­ily and friends that party went from some­thing like 60 to 65 at the Derby to 70 at the Preak­ness and now 110 at the Belmont, so they’re bring­ing happy peo­ple along with them.”

Broth­ers, who has been with NBC since 2000, doesn’t view her role with Starlight as a con­flict in cov­er­ing Jus­tify, par­tic­u­larly in a small in­dus­try such as horse rac­ing where there are all kinds of con­nec­tions and crossovers. In the past, NBC has dis­closed on the air when she’s had a per­sonal stake in a horse (such as when her hus­band had a horse in a race on the net­work), but in this par­tic­u­lar role, she said her job is more about mar­ket­ing for the part­ner­ship than any­thing to do with its horses.

“I’m not re­spon­si­ble for pick­ing out the horses, I’m not the rac­ing man­ager,” she said. “I don’t com­mu­ni­cate with the train­ers on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, so while I am very much in­vested in Starlight and their suc­cess and the part­ners be­ing happy, it doesn’t end up feel­ing like a con­flict of in­ter­est to me be­cause I didn’t pick out the horse. Be­fore my hus­band retired, I had a cou­ple of in­stances where I cov­ered races where my hus­band had a horse. It was a lot harder then to sep­a­rate, but it still wasn’t hard.”

In fact, Broth­ers said, she was so in­vested in be­ing pre­pared for the Ken­tucky Derby — and with 20 pos­si­ble win­ners, there’s a lot of po­ten­tial ques­tions she has to keep in her head for a pos­si­ble in­ter­view — that she didn’t think about any­thing else un­til her por­tion of the post-race cov­er­age was fin­ished.

“Hav­ing been a jockey for so many years, I was able to see things for what they are and sep­a­rate from them emo­tion­ally,” she said. “It re­ally wasn’t un­til af­ter my in­ter­view with Mike Smith af­ter the Derby and he was jog­ging back to the win­ner’s cir­cle that I thought, ‘Oh my God, Starlight Rac­ing just won the Derby.’ ”


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