Thursday, April 19, 2001
Where Are They Now?: Julie Krone
By Michael Diegnan
ABC Sports OnlineIt’s a shame that Julie Krone is thought of as a great “female” jockey because this tag never affected her despite the sexism she would face around the stables and at the track.
Julie Krone became the first woman elected to the Hall of Fame the week before the Kentucky Derby
“I approached the sport like there wasn’t a gender issue and I wouldn’t participate in the mindset of ‘she is just a girl,'” says Krone, who retired in April of 1999 with 3,545 victories and more than $81 million in lifetime earnings. “Every time anyone tried to make that an issue, I swept it underneath the rug and forced forward. One day I was at Saratoga, in the middle of all the leading riders, and there was a little 5- or 6-year-old standing there pulling on my sleeve and he says, ‘Julie, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.'”
Despite her retirement, Krone is still making headlines as a female jockey. Last year, she became the first female jockey to be enshrined in the National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
Her nomination is a far cry from when Krone was a little girl born in Benton Harbor, Mich., in 1963, who started taking five-mile treks with her first horse when she was three. By age five, she won her first competition in a county fair horse show. Nonetheless, she also had visions of joining the circus and doing gymnastics.
“At the circus, I learned to do all the tricks on horses, like standing up and back flips,” Krone says. “But my circus adventure was really not for me so it didn’t work out. Gymnastics went well for a little while, but it didn’t last very long either.”
By the time she was 13, Krone knew what she wanted to do: become the best jockey in the world. She worked up through the lower ranks of racing while living in Florida with her grandmother before riding her first winner, Lord Farkle, at Tampa Bay Downs in 1981.
She was among the top five jockeys in the nation in wins from 1987-89. But there were still many people that would not give the 4-foot-10 jockey a chance.
“No matter what any single person has, people are going to single you out and tell you no,” Krone says. “My competitive nature drove me on despite all of the naysayers. I had to change my thoughts and not participate in the gender issue on their level. Every time my gender was singled out, I was challenged to beat that issue and prove that I was a great jockey. My perseverance wore down my toughest critics.”
One of those critics that broke down was John Veitch, who trained Alydar, the horse that placed second in all three Triple Crown races to Affirmed in 1978.
“John was a real unique personality,” Krone says. “When I went out to New York, I walked up to him and he says to me, ‘Julie, don’t you bother coming by to see me because I do not like girl jockeys.’ Yet, I took this and made it a challenge to prove myself. Three years later, I won the Grand Horse at Belmont Park [for him]. I ended up winning many more races for him and it was pretty fun. That was just one example of taking something negative and turning it into a driving force. I spent a lot of time sorting out which things to let bother you and which things to drive you and which things to just forget.”
“Sitting down with a fly swatter on the trunk, my hat on backwards, I think back how I was watching Steve Cauthen on TV with a hat on my head, and I look at my mom and say ‘Mom, I want to be a jockey,'” she says. “It wasn’t a whimsical ‘I want to be a jockey,’ even though I almost joined the circus and did gymnastics. I was very sincere when I spoke those words to my mother. ” — Julie Krone
In 1991, Krone made her Triple Crown racing debut with a mount aboard Subordinated Debt. Two years later, she made her historic ride aboard Colonial Affair, winning the Belmont Stakes
“Winning the Belmont Stakes was an amazing thing, other than the obvious fact that I lived my dream, which was just incredible,” Krone says. “Think of it for a moment … How many kids do you see watching major league baseball and they say the same thing? Especially a young girl watching who says, ‘I know that I can pitch and play ball,’ but the sport is male-dominated. So I think about where this dream of mine could have come from when there were so many obstacles in my way. When I dreamed of being a jockey, I wasn’t even aware of any gender-related stipulations on the sport.”
Her dreams of racing peaked when she watched 1978 Triple Crown-winning jockey Steve Cauthen, who was an announcer on her fateful day in ’93.
“Sitting down with a fly swatter on the trunk, my hat on backwards, I think back how I was watching Steve Cauthen on TV with a hat on my head, and I look at my mom and say ‘Mom, I want to be a jockey,'” she says. “It wasn’t a whimsical ‘I want to be a jockey,’ even though I almost joined the circus and did gymnastics. I was very sincere when I spoke those words to my mother.”
Two months after her victory at Belmont, Krone became just the third jockey ever to ride into the winner’s circle five times in one day at Saratoga.
Just 10 days later, Krone seriously fractured her ankle in a three-horse accident at Saratoga. Rehabilitation took nine months. Less than a year after returning to the track, she suffered another serious blow when she spilled at Gulfstream Park and fractured her wrist and hand.
“They were both pretty nasty spills, falls,” Krone says. “And the intensity of them were made much more difficult because of the bad hospital stays and the surgery. The actual trauma brought up all this different past trauma, especially after the second spill. My life was like a puzzle blown over and I had to put all of the pieces back together again.
“If you view a tape or a film of a spill that I took, you can feel the pain that I went through as the horses ran over me. I had fallen in front of the horses and my body bumped 10 feet in the air and the blow of a horse hit me, then I slid across the grass.”
Again, Krone successfully returned from the injuries. On April 18, 1999, she raced for the final time with three victories, a second and a third in five races at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.
“Lone Star was really incredible for helping my mom [who was ill and has since past away],” Krone says. “It was really good to stop racing successfully and that she could see me retire on top. She was so happy that she didn’t have to worry about me on the horses anymore.”
Although she no longer mounts, Krone, 38, is still involved in horse racing as an analyst She is also a spokesperson for Pfizer, the manufacturer of the antidepressant Zoloft, and a main participant in the Women’s Sports Foundation-sponsored “Minds in Motion Depression Campaign” to remove the stigma of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Krone is also very active with the Chruch. After her injuries, she credits her faith in God from “falling off the edge when things were really bad.
“I’ve always told reporters that you have to write about my Christian faith. The peace that comes along with this is just amazing and I’ve developed a greater appreciation of things that I accomplished in my career. My adversities and the things that I suffered were the things that really helped me become more peaceful and secure in my life.”
In a life that has overcome many obstacles, Krone deserves to have time to be peaceful.
Michael Diegnan is an editor for ABC Sports Online.