Jockey Krone returns for another Million


September 23, 1992|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. — Elmont, N.Y.--Julie Krone sits happily in the Jockeys' Lounge in the basement maze-like catacombs of mammoth Belmont Park. She sips from a soft drink and in a high-pitched voice a friend describes as "part helium," she banters with two other jockeys, ordering one to move his plate of cantaloupe to another table, telling another coming back from a riding accident how good his injured arm looks.

A few minutes before, up on the 1 1/2 -mile dirt track that circles twin lakes, hundreds of sea gulls and the flowered grave of the filly Ruffian, the most successful woman jockey in history has ridden Easy Spender to a victory -- the 2,499th of a career that took off in Maryland and almost has made "first woman jockey to . . . " seem part of her name.

On Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, she hopes to ride a femore winners in the Maryland Million, the seventh year for an event started by Jim McKay, ABC-TV sportscaster and Maryland horse breeder, for horses sired by Maryland stallions.

Julieanne Louise Krone, who turned 29 on July 24, has more Maryland Million wins -- seven -- than any other jockey. She and Kent Desormeaux, who rides on the West Coast but who also started in Maryland, are the Million's celebrity jockeys -- female vs. male, East Coast vs. West Coast, two riders Pimlico officials feel bring people into the stands.

Ms. Krone rides most of the year in New York, where thisummer at Belmont she became the first woman ever to be top rider for the season in the state. She sees returning to Maryland once a year as important, as a way to get back to beginnings as a "bug rider," or apprentice jockey, on Maryland tracks.

"It's like . . . you make a complete circle. Not many things in this game are stable, you know."

In the Belmont lounge, between races, she looks smaller than she does in full jockey's attire on the track. For one thing, she is minus her protective flak jacket and the helmet that covers her short blond hair. She officially is listed at 4 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and 100 pounds.

Even sitting still, she seems to be moving. Pregnant pauses are not a part of her vocabulary; hyperactivity is her pace of choice. She talks fast, drives fast, rides fast. Chick Lang Jr., a key figure in her early Maryland career, likens her to "mercury loose on a table top."

Fast, yes, but also known as hard-working, tough and not one tback down: On a few occasions mostly early in her career, when encountering what she perceived as unfair racing tactics, Ms. Krone let her feelings be known through her fists. In fact, in September 1989 at the Meadowlands, she received a 15-day suspension for exchanging punches with jockey Joe Bravo after they had whipped each other's horses during a race.

Julie Snellings, now Pimlico claims and entry clerk, gets credit for discovering her in 1981 in Florida.

"I was working as stewards' secretary at Tampa Bay Downs," says Ms. Snellings, a promising jockey herself until her back was broken and she was paralyzed in an accident at Delaware Park in 1977. "One of the stewards told me to go watch her. 'She's good,' he said. He was right."

Enter Chickie, up in Maryland, known to most as Chick Lang Jr., who has been administrative director of Oaklawn Race Course in Hot Springs, Ark., since 1987 but then was a booking agent for jockeys.

UI "Julie told me, 'This girl is going to come up and stay with you.' "

A home in Timonium

Mr. Lang, 44, remembers Julie Krone arriving at his Timonium home with "her belongings in boxes. She was just a baby, 17, I think. She travels a little better than that now."

As in a Mitsubishi 3000-GT, a high performance sports car she drives to and from the tracks from her 10-acre farm in Colts Neck, N.J.

But then Ms. Krone, a carless high school dropout from Eau Claire, Mich., who was taught to ride by her mother, a dressage rider, lived with the Lang family, as the oldest "child" of Mr. Lang's four children.

On April 1, 1981, she rode her first Maryland winner: Barbary Pirate, a 10-to-1 shot, in the second race at Pimlico. The owner of Barbary Pirate: Julie Snellings.

That was the first, then came more and more as bug rider advanced to journeyman. Soon after arriving in Maryland, she was riding for noted trainers like Bud and Richard Delp at Pimlico and Delaware Park. By the time Ms. Krone turned 18, Bud Delp was saying she could become the highest-paid female jock

ey ever.

"He was like a whole group of people who, if they hadn't come into my life . . . I doubt if I would've had the success I've had."

Early on, Chick Lang Jr. helped her with booking races but says he never felt comfortable with it because "you can't book races for someone who sits at the dinner table with you." Gerald Delp, Bud's son, says he was her agent for a year but left Maryland with his father to campaign in New Orleans.

Then came Snake, a Maryland connection remaining with her today. Larry Cooper is his real name, but he's been Snake since growing up on Quantico Avenue in Pimlico.

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