ELMONT, N.Y. -- Her mounts, somehow oblivious to the fact the most famous female jockey in history was back and on their backs, failed to cooperate. Shame on them; this was Julie Krone's day.
But even a couple of slow horses could not spoil it.
A healed Julie Krone returned to warm cheers and well wishes yesterday at Belmont Park, accepting her first mounts since she shattered her right ankle in a frightening spill Aug. 30, 1993, at Saratoga.
Always the star, she never has been more the center of attention. Every step and move was followed by a horde of media types, and the public bet her horses as if she were aboard Seattle Slew. But Krone could do no better than a third-place finish in two attempts.
Krone stepped out of the jockey's room and headed toward the paddock to start her day with Baypark in the fourth race. Playing to the many cameras, she stopped to kiss a couple of children gathered by the paddock and beamed when even the hard-core gamblers lining the rails wished her luck.
Baypark, bet down to the 5-2 favorite after opening at 5-1 in the morning line, was up close early but had no late punch. He finished third.
"Around the turn, I asked him to run, and he picked it up, and I said, 'Yes!' But suddenly the horses started getting away from us.
"No matter how much water I drank before the race, I was still as thirsty as ever. I had dry mouth, butterflies and my muscles were shaking. Otherwise, it was pretty normal."
In the eighth race, the Bouwerie Stakes, she finished eighth in the 10-horse field aboard Life Boat, who was never competitive. Listed at 15-1 in the morning line, Life Boat went off at 6-1.
Krone admitted she badly wanted to win on her day. Still, she said that merely returning was elating.
"The most important thing to me is that I'm back," she said. "Now I've got to get back in that zone, that groove. I want to breeze six or seven every morning, win six, seven, eight, nine a week or five in one day. Coming here, I said to myself: 'Remember winning the Belmont or when you won five in a day in Saratoga, when you were invincible?'
"I want to get that feeling back; I want to be like that again. I wasn't picky about who I rode for today; I just wanted to ride."
Thus, 11 months filled with amazing highs and lows have come full circle. She became the first female jockey in history to win a Triple Crown race when she guided Colonial Affair to victory last year in the Belmont. Two and a half months later, she was lying on the Saratoga turf course in intense pain, worrying that she never would ride again.
Krone suffered a bruised heart that could have killed her, a puncture on the inside of her elbow and a shattered right ankle. She needed two plates and 14 screws to reconstruct the ankle.
"No, you can't measure all that has happened to me," she said. "The scale doesn't go high enough or low enough. Breaking my ankle, nothing was so scary except when I was told my mother had cancer. The problem is that it's out of your control.
"There's nothing you can do about it personally. Everything you've always done, as hard as you've worked for things, it doesn't matter because it's in the hands of your doctors and the nature of the injury."
She said she will try harder and ride better than ever because she never has appreciated her career as much as she does now.