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Donna Brothers on 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

Donna Brothers on 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland: Keeneland’s first chance to host a Breeders’ Cup World Championship lies just a month away. The hype begins! Donna Barton Brothers, a former jockey and current reporter for NBC Sports, spoke on the phone and discussed her thoughts on past Breeders’ Cups, Keeneland, some of the major horses pointing towards the event and the challenges of becoming a racing fan.

Donna Brothers on Breeders' Cup

Donna Barton Brothers, pictured above at Keeneland for TVG, started reading the past performances when she was just six years old.

After retiring as a jockey in 1998, Brothers began to gain experience working for “Television Games Network (TVG), ESPN, and the Fair Grounds Race Course,” and “Churchill Downs as an on-air racing analyst and handicapper from 1999 through 2003,” according to her official website.

She also began attending University of Louisville and started working for NBC Sports in 2000. Eventually, it just made sense to leave school and work on a full-time basis in media.

“I spend a lot of time learning about horses and people, so I’m always learning,” Brothers said. “Recently, I covered a horse show in New York, so it’s not just horse racing either.”

When asked about her favorite Breeders’ Cup venue, Brothers simply expressed her desire for the event to consistently rotate around different racetracks and not stay in a specific location.

“I think it should change every year, as the original vision of founder John Gaines intended,” Brothers explained. “It shouldn’t be 80 degrees and sunny all the time at the Breeders’ Cup.”

Brothers mentioned a couple of her favorite Breeders’ Cup races.

“The 1988 Distaff with Personal Ensign and Winning Colors,” Brothers said. “Also, the 2009 Classic when Zenyatta won, and after that in the 2010 Classic when Zenyatta got beat. Blame was great.”

How does betting the Breeders’ Cup compare to a normal day for the average bettor? Brothers considers these races a challenge because of the amount of quality horses. The racing public looks forward to the Breeders’ Cup though for plenty of sound reasons other than seeing their favorite stars.

“The Breeders’ Cup races offer more value,” she explained. “They reward bettors who really like to study a card and test their skill set.”

“Plus, good horses are more consistent (than average low-priced claimers).”

During the spring meet at Keeneland, some handicappers believed the new dirt course favored outside closers. Keeneland and future Breeders’ Cup host Del Mar installed new dirt surfaces last year and they play a touch slower than the old versions. Still, Brothers shrugs off the idea of a bias.

“There is not a strong bias,” Brothers said. “It favored, if anything, the favorites.

“If there is a bias, the track superintendent Javier Barajas will figure it out.”

While the Breeders’ Cup fields are not set in stone, Brothers gave opinions on a couple of well-known horses including older horse Liam’s Map. Even though Liam’s Map won the Woodward (GI) at Saratoga Race Course, the connections may enter the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) instead.

“The only advantage to going the Dirt Mile route is staying away and avoiding American Pharoah, Beholder and Honor Code,” Brothers said. “It seems like a … see who goes where situation.”

As for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), bettors look ready to pound Wedding Toast at the windows. Brothers thinks highly of one other contender.

“I’m a Chatterbox’s form has been spectacular,” Brothers explained. “I originally thought she preferred Fair Grounds earlier in the year, but she really seems to be coming into her own.”

In the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (GI), and Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI), the secret is out on the Europeans and their love for grass racing. Sometimes the public bets them heavily. Brothers credits their success to the connections knowing which horses fit. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Flintshire is one of the expected favorites for the latter race, assuming the connections enter him.

“They bring the right horses,” she pointed out. “I spoke with Flintshire’s trainer, and he told me his horse enjoys firm turf, like the kind in America … (in addition) they’re used to traveling.”

One interesting tip was offered for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI), run at 5.5 furlongs this year, although Brothers does not feel bettors need to approach the race too differently.

She said, “Inside speed horses will likely hold the advantage.”

Moving on, Brothers commented on one Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) contender that bettors overlooked in the Iroquois (GIII) at Churchill Downs: Cocked and Loaded.

“The horse ran a good race in the Iroquois and the jockey rode him well,” Brothers said, when asked if he benefited from a speed duel. “If he were in Asmussen’s barn, he would have been 5/1.”

Of course, certain horses are impossible to be overlooked. Online horse racing forums are lit up with chatter about Triple Crown hero American Pharoah facing Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Brothers will take a different route in the race and go with Honor Code.

“I don’t think he’s proven better at one-turn,” Brothers remarked about the two-turn Whitney victor.

Brothers also wrote a book titled Inside Track, which was inspired doing the television coverage and realizing how strange racing language sounds to casual observers who lack understanding of the sport. Horse racing is not an impossible subject to learn for outsiders, as long as they take one step inside. Not even reading past performances should be too daunting.

“I started reading (the past performances) when I was six years old,” Brothers told of the initial exposure. “At least, it’s not hard to get the coding system.”

Perhaps the best opportunity to expose non-horse friends to racing is in a few weeks. The Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for Oct. 30 and 31 at Keeneland Race Course. If unable to attend live, watch NBC Sports and their coverage, which will feature Donna Brothers and other great media personalities.