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Recovering Krone Is Ready to Ride : Horse racing: Jockey will resume race riding next week, months after career-threatening spill.

May 14, 1994|VINNIE PERRONE | WASHINGTON POST

Doctors said it was the kind of leg injury suffered by race-car drivers, or someone who's fallen from great height.

Her ankle was rubble. Her sternum was hammered by a thousand pounds of flailing terror. Her left arm was cut, exposing bone. Her buttock revealed the source of the calamity. On it was a hoofprint.

For one of the nation's best-known female athletes, two rounds of leg surgery required special implants: child-size plates, child-size screws.

In a child-size voice, 4-foot 10 1/2-inch jockey Julie Krone says her lower right leg is becoming less of a bother now, nearly eight months since it was rearranged in a dreadful spill at Saratoga. A titanium plate and six screws were affixed to her fibula, the outer leg bone between the knee and ankle. Eight days later, another plate and eight screws helped restore the shinbone near the instep. Her limp, doctors told her, may never leave.

She thinks she came within an inch and a half of death -- the width of the fiberglass safety vest she'd been wearing that Aug. 30 afternoon, when a horse's hoof crashed upon her chest amid the body-flinging chaos. Her heart was bruised, her desire untouched. She began galloping horses last month at Belmont Park, and plans to ride for real beginning next week.

A hundred pounds of unchecked spunk and horseback fury, Krone, 30, has won 2,766 races worth $53.9 million, making her by far the most successful female jockey ever. Three times she has placed among the top six in jockey victories for a year, four times among the top 12 in earnings.

She became the first woman to displace them atop the jockeys standings at major-league parks, winning season titles at Monmouth Park, at the Meadowlands (where she later set a track record with 132 wins in a season) and at Belmont in New York, self-professed hub of the racing universe.

And if she couldn't outride the guys, she could outslug them. At Bowie, she was fined for shoving jockey Yves Turcotte after he whipped her horse during a race; at Monmouth Park, she hit jockey Miguel Rujano with a crisp right and reportedly slammed Joe Bravo's head into a rail as part of a postrace altercation.

Last year, Krone began new assaults. In early June she took Colonial Affair into the Belmont Stakes and left it as the first woman to ride the winner of a Triple Crown race. In mid-August, she joined Angel Cordero Jr. and Ron Turcotte as the only jockeys in 126 years to win five races on a card at Saratoga.

Krone was immersed in her most gratifying season when all hell broke loose on the final day at Saratoga. A horse ridden by inexperienced apprentice Filiberto Leon veered in front of Krone's mount, Seattle Way, in a congested stretch run on the turf. Krone instinctively pulled back hard, but found no options. Seattle Way tripped over the rear legs of Leon's mount and went down, starting a chain reaction.

"To me there was a genuine fear," Krone said. "But even being in the hospital, selective amnesia kicks in. I don't remember so much of the fall, and we have no memory of pain . . . . "

She began her rehabilitation by walking the sands of Anguilla, in the British West Indies, and now spends two hours a day reconditioning her leg. The brace will stay on even after she resumes riding, until the Breeders' Cup this fall.

Now, as Triple Crown competition begins to occupy the racing public, Krone is trying to stay detached. She is consumed by the challenge to get well soon, consciously dismissing the likelihood that arthritis will someday seize her reconstructed joints for good.

"As an athlete and, having a natural very positive attitude, I just feel happy with my own progress," she said. "What I do is, I get pumped up about losing my crutches, and I get pumped up about being off my pain medication, and I get pumped up about being able to do my first double-footed leaps in (physical therapy). And I'm still in a lot of pain, so every night that I sleep without having to wake up and take something, those are the things I get pumped up about. I don't have any choice. I'm not going to sit back and pout about something I can't control.

"At the same time, I do have fleeting moments on the other side where I just go, 'Wow, this is probably going to hurt me when I'm old,' and, 'My Triple Crown horse could be warming up right now,' a little bit like that. But my basic instinct is just to have positive energy, go forward, work out hard. I feel more crazed and obsessed in being successful now than I ever have in my life. I feel more focused, more patient, more driven."

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