Julie Krone is not an unfamiliar person to many people. But she caught our attention this week because we thought she had retired. As it turns out, we were not paying close enough attention and she was becoming a winner all over again. She certainly has the guts to do it.
Krone, on horse Halfbridled, won a Breeders Cup last Saturday at Santa Anita, Calif. She was the first woman to do so. It was a very good win for a woman whose whole career has been about joy, accomplishment and pain.
"Shakespeare said there's no secret so close as that of a person and a horse, and no truer words could ever be spoken because of the little tiny innuendos that go on when someone leads a horse or walks a horse or rides a horse," Krone said.
Krone's last major victory was in the summer of 1993 when she won the Belmont Stakes, the only woman to win a race in the Triple Crown.
A couple of months later in a race at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Krone was up on Seattle Way and into the final stretch when the horse in front of her swerved.
It was a very bad fall — and she had had many.
"Broke my rib over my heart, and I got a cardiac contusion and I snapped my head back, I broke a little bone in my neck, had a bad concussion and I cracked my hip," Krone said.
The doctors said had she not been wearing a protective vest, she might have been killed.
For Krone, it was another long recovery. She'd go down to the barn just to smell the hay and hear the sound of the horses eating in their stalls. "I was so homesick for the racetrack and so homesick for the horses," Krone said.
Born to Ride
Riding has been in her blood from the beginning — she began riding at age 3 in Benton Harbor, Mich.
Her mother was a riding instructor. One day while trying to sell a horse she put Julie on its back to show how gentle he was. Julie never got off a horse. She was winning competitions when she was 6. She dropped out of high school to become a jockey.
She had it all: The mental toughness, the aggressive temperament. And as hard as it was for a woman at the track, she had the perseverance.
But after those falls in the 1990s, who could blame her for hanging it up? She had constant pain — nightmares about falling and after the worst of them, post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I remember thinking at that time, you know, I don't want to ride anymore, that's when things didn't go so well for me," Krone said.
But nothing has ever kept Krone away from the track for long. And soon, she would try again. It wasn't great.
"I went from being this wonderful person on a horse to this total disaster, everything somebody told me to do I would do the wrong thing and I was over trying, nothing would ever go right," Krone said.
So after 3,500 victories, battling the best guys seven days a week at Grand Prairie in Texas with her mother in the stands a long and illustrious career was announced to be over.
But we know better now.
This is an extraordinary talent. At 4-foot-10, 100 pounds, she's small even for a jockey. This is a woman who knows how to coax a horse, who talks about getting a really wild horse and feeling it melt in her hands.
"She has a way with body language, with touch with feeling and that squeaky little voice she's got, she can get a lion to purr," said trainer Richard Mandell.
And still proving herself every day, Krone says she can never rest on her laurels. This year she is the first woman to be accepted into Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame.
"Right now I can say I'm somebody who does a job that I love every day and enjoy myself and I think there's not a lot of people in this world that get that so, maybe that's what it is, I get to do something that I love," Krone said.