Thursday, 02 May 2024 14:10

Donna Barton Brothers Embraces the Belmont

“Embrace the Belmont” flier image provided by Therapeutic Horses of Saratoga. “Embrace the Belmont” flier image provided by Therapeutic Horses of Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Donna Barton Brothers retired from horse racing in 1998, she was the second-winningest female jockey in the country by money earned. Since then, she’s become one of the sport’s most prominent advocates, using her talents as a broadcaster and reporter for NBC Sports to explain the complicated world of horse racing to the masses.

“We have a lot of language that is specific only to our sport,” Brothers told Saratoga TODAY, “and it doesn’t make people want to know more about our sport if we constantly use language that excludes them from understanding what we’re talking about.” 

On June 4, she’ll bring her explanatory skills to “Embrace the Belmont,” an event at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame that aims to teach the Saratoga community about its upcoming Triple Crown race. 

“I just wanted the people who are in town and the ones most affected by the Saratoga circus coming to town every year, to have an event for them,” Brothers said.

Fox Sports analysts Acacia Courtney Clement and Maggie Wolfendale will join Brothers at “Embrace the Belmont” and discuss all things Saratoga, which ranks as Brother’s second-favorite track in the country.

“Saratoga is such an iconic venue,” Brothers said. “When you walk in and look at that structure, you feel the 100 years plus of history ingrained in the wood.”

Brothers said that much like Keeneland in Louisville, Kentucky, people in the Saratoga paddock “still have a deep reverence for the sport.”

That reverence is part of the reason why Brothers said people in the horseracing industry are eagerly anticipating this year’s Belmont Stakes at Saratoga. But there are some aspects to this year’s race that insiders are less excited about, such as the New York Racing Association’s (NYRA) decision to run the event at a mile and a quarter instead of the traditional mile and a half.

Brothers also said that there’s been a push in the industry to change the Triple Crown schedule to make each race about a month apart, with the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness on the first Saturday of June, and finally Belmont on the first Saturday in July. Brothers said NYRA has been resistant to these proposed changes.

“I think it was a little bit surprising that they were willing to change the distance so quickly without any sort of discussion with people in the industry, but yet they seem to have very little willingness to change the dates, the spacing, of the Triple Crown races,” Brothers said.

Nonetheless, Brothers said that the primary response among horseracing insiders to this year’s Belmont is excitement.

“We love the history of horse racing and we love that some things will never change. But it’s also fun to have a little bit of excitement and have things shaken up just a little bit here and there,” she said.

One organization that has shaken up the industry a bit is Therapeutic Horses of Saratoga, organizers of the “Embrace the Belmont” event. Brothers visited the nonprofit’s facilities in March and came away impressed.

“They’re helping people who are marginalized in one way or another, and they’re treating those people in a proven, effective way,” Brothers said. “I think that kind of work is very important but also very underrated.”

Therapeutic Horses of Saratoga rescues retired racehorses and matches them with humans who can benefit from equine-assisted therapy. Some of those who benefit include both adults and children with mental illness, veterans, families, couples, and victims of domestic violence.

In support of the organization, Brothers will emcee “Embrace the Belmont” on Tuesday, June 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the National Museum of Horse Racing and Hall of Fame. To learn more about the event or to purchase a ticket, visit thsaratoga.org/events.

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