Julie Krone - A Love Of Speed
A Love of Speed
For all her precocious dedication, Krone was also possessed of the body of a perpetual child. She topped out at four-foot-ten, petite even by jockey standards. Her high-pitched voice got the girl ridiculed in high school; she took comfort in her animals and her poetry. She nearly ran off to join a circus after impressing the owner with her stunts on horseback, then backed out when she decided she didn't trust the man. But Krone's heart belonged to racing. She hung a racetrack picture on her bedroom ceiling, studying the turns as she fell asleep clutching a riding crop.
Time could barely catch up with Krone's ambition. Too young at fifteen to work at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, the would-be jockey had her mother rectify the problem by forging a birth certificate. Krone began her professional career as a "hot-walker," cooling off the thoroughbreds after their workouts and races.
But Krone wanted more—much more. She became an exercise rider and by 1980 had advanced to apprentice jockey. On February 17, 1981, Krone won her first race on a horse called Lord Farkle, in Tampa, Florida. But the ride to the winner's circle was never an easy one, and could be particularly tough for a woman. Thoroughbred racing had a longstanding men-only culture; the first professional female jockeys, including Barbara Jo Rubin, faced bias, suffered numerous indignities, and even endured the threat of physical violence. As for Krone, her own idiosyncrasies, including a penchant for brawling and a conviction of marijuana possession, threatened to undercut her budding career. In one notable example, Krone angered another jockey, Miguel Rujano, who took his whip to Krone's face. She retaliated by delivering a roundhouse punch, which escalated into a shoving, chair-throwing melee. "Both were fined $100," noted People writer Jack Freidman, "but Krone had scored some points by giving the lie to that old canard that women aren't tough enough to ride with the men."
Still, there was no denying Krone's gift for working with thoroughbreds. She was known as a rider of unusual patience, able to settle down on a galloping horse and let him run relaxed until the moment he needed her guidance to take the lead. The wins and titles piled up through the 1980s. Years of riding anonymous animals at small tracks prepared Krone to move to quality thoroughbreds at sites like Pimlico, Saratoga, and Churchill Downs. It was at the latter location that Krone rode her first Kentucky Derby, in 1991. That same year, she became the first woman to ride in the Belmont Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown.