Krone goes out on top, winning more fans

Top female jockey rides her last race today

April 18, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Julie Krone remembers the winners. And there have been 3,543 winners, far more than for any other female jockey in history.

But she cherishes the moments when fans, especially girls, tug on her silks and look with wide, sparkling eyes and say: "Julie Krone, I'm the leading scorer on my co-ed soccer team because of you. Thank you. Thank you, Julie Krone."

Yesterday at Pimlico, before starting work on the next-to-last Krone day of her incredible career, Krone recounted some of the highs and lows of the 20-year roller-coaster ride that will end today at Lone Star Park. Krone, 35, is retiring for several reasons, the main one being the pain after a hard day at work.

"For me, it took two really, really bad spills before I felt shook up from it," Krone said. "I realized that I couldn't do it anymore physically. Then I thought, `So when am I going to quit? Do I wait until I fall off again?' I'm going out by choice."

She rode four horses at Pimlico, finishing second, fifth and fourth twice. Today, she closes out her career on Desert Demon in the Lone Star Derby in Texas.

When announcing her retirement last week in New York, she said she would delay it to ride Desert Demon in the Kentucky Derby if he made it there. But yesterday, she said she had reconsidered, and today will be the end.

One reason is her mother, who has cancer. Krone wants to spend time with her in Florida.

Another is her interest in psychology, developed during psychotherapy to overcome depression and post-trauma disorder from her spills. She's been taking undergraduate courses in psychology but wants to attend school full-time and eventually obtain her doctorate.

She'd also like to teach Sunday school.

After riding her first race at Tampa Bay Downs in 1980, Krone labored in Maryland in 1981 and 1982 before darting off to New Jersey and New York -- and fame. She became the most successful female jockey -- the first to win a riding title 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).

After suffering severe injuries in horrific spills at Saratoga in 1993 and Gulfstream Park in 1995, Krone slumped, lost confidence and realized she suffered from clinical depression. But now, she said, she feels terrific.

She rejuvenated her career this winter at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans as the third-leading rider -- and then decided to retire on top. She rode at the Fair Grounds for her long-time friend, the Maryland trainer Richard W. Small.

"She was just magic," Small said. "I just had the best time watching her ride.

"A lot of people have the talent, but she has a gift, the kind you don't see very often. She understands horses better than anyone I've been around. And she had the determination, the moxie and the grittiness to be the best."

Small said that every day at the Fair Grounds fans flocked to Krone -- young, old, in between. Yesterday, Krone said she was proud that people considered her a role model.

"That little 7-year-old girl I met might be in the World Series someday," Krone said. "I mean, who's to say?"

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