Krone, Lite The Fuse dynamite together They go for repeat in De Francis Dash

July 19, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The tiny person kept saying in that now-famous squeaky voice: "You think I'm gonna be OK when I lose my bug?"

That was Julie Krone, 18-year-old jockey trying to break through in Maryland, referring to the weight break she would lose once she lost her "bug," or apprenticeship.

Now Krone, five days shy of 33 and perhaps the best-known jockey on Earth, returns to Maryland tomorrow to ride at Laurel Park. Veterans who remember the scared but determined teen-ager will pepper her with: "You think I'm gonna be OK. . .? You think I'm gonna be OK. . .?"

Krone will ride Lite The Fuse in the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, at six furlongs one of the top sprint races in America. She will ride the champion 5-year-old for trainer Dick Dutrow, whose ties to this state are strong. A native of Hagerstown, Dutrow trained horses here nearly 20 years before setting out for New York in 1984.

"There're only three things in this racing business," Dutrow said this week. "Cigar, D. Wayne Lukas and Julie Krone. They're who the people want. They're the lime- lighters in the sport right now."

Dutrow, who has known Krone since her Maryland days, developed Lite The Fuse with her in mind. She has ridden him in all but one of his 16 races, including last year's De Francis Dash, which Lite The Fuse won by two lengths as the odds-on favorite.

"He's a little temperamental," Dutrow said of the horse, whom he bred and owns. "Julie's good with temperamental horses. She takes her time with them. She lets the horse have his way, more or less. She doesn't try to bully him."

Reached by telephone at her Long Island apartment, where she stays when riding at Belmont and Aqueduct, Krone said she can't really explain this knack with horses. And even if she could, "you think I'd let the secret out so everyone would know?"

After exercising horses at Belmont tomorrow morning, she will fly into Maryland hours before the race. Afterward, she'll fly back so she can work out horses Sunday morning.

"There're people I'd like to see there," she said. "But this won't be a vacation. I'm down there to do a job."

As she said last August, just before marrying a former track security guard who is 6 feet 4 (she is 4-10): "I sleep to ride. I eat to ride. I live to ride. He knows my priorities."

And those priorities right now, she said, do not include children. She would like to raise a family someday, she said. But now, she'd rather talk about one of her favorite horses, Lite The Fuse.

"He's probably one of the 10 prettiest horses I've ever ridden," she said. "He almost looks like a show horse.

"But he's very hard on himself. He's ultra-sensitive. Like, you tell him to take one step forward, and he'll trot forward. He's always willing to do too much all the time."

That description also fits Krone herself. Raised on a farm in Michigan, she rode horses almost before she walked. Once she decided as a girl she wanted to become a jockey, she allowed nothing to block her way. She was always willing to do too much all the time.

Her mother, a state equestrian champion, altered the birth certificate of her 16-year-old daughter so she could claim to be a year older and qualify for a summer job at Churchill Downs. Krone walked horses, cleaned stalls, then groomed and exercised horses. She quit high school her senior year and ventured to Tampa Bay Downs in 1980 to begin her career as a jockey.

In 1981 and 1982 she rode in Maryland, where she endured a 30-day suspension for possessing marijuana and suffered a broken back after being thrown.

Then she was off to New Jersey and New York -- and fame. Krone overcame prejudice against female jockeys, fights with male jockeys and horrific spills that nearly killed her.

Krone became the most successful female jockey in history -- the first to win a riding championship at a major racetrack (1987 at Monmouth Park), the first to ride in a Breeders' Cup race (1988) and the first to win a Triple Crown race (1993 Belmont on Colonial Affair).

Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero, now training horses in New York, offered this tribute:

"There's always prejudice, whether it's against women, Hispanics, blacks. It's always there. So Julie's probably two, three times better than half the riders she rides against every day. She has to be to get her due. . . . She's got a lot of talent. She's got brains. She's very gutsy. All that added together makes her one of the top 10 jockeys in the country today."

De Francis Dash

What: Frank J. De Francis

Memorial Dash

Where: Laurel Park

When: 5: 36 p.m. tomorrow

Purse: $300,000

Distance: Six furlongs

Defending champ: Lite The Fuse

Top challengers: Meadow Monster, Not Surprising

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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