When Julie Krone was riding, it was always on to the next race, on to the next day, on to the next track, allowing precious little time to celebrate her accomplishments, no matter how unprecedented they were.
“When you are younger,” she said, “you are so in the moment.”
Now that she is 55 years old, a wife to Daily Racing Form executive columnist Jay Hovdey and a doting mother to 13-year-old Lorelei, she has time to put perspective on it all.
“I went through all these different phases. Now I look at it that it’s really cool. I really did that,” she said.
The native of Benton Harbor, Mich., who decided to pursue a career as a jockey after reading the autobiography of Steve Cauthen, made so many breakthroughs after she debuted at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 30, 1981. Fittingly, the 4-foot-10, 105-pound Krone rode Tiny Star in her first race, never imagining how big a star she would become.
She emerged as the first woman to win a Triple Crown race, achieving that aboard Colonial Affair in the Belmont Stakes in 1993, the first to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (2000), and the first to take a Breeders’ Cup race when Halfbridled triumphed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park in 2003.
John Forbes, based at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., immediately observed how gifted Krone was. He was one of her early supporters when others were skeptical. “One thing you have to have is an affinity to communicate with a horse, and that’s what she had,” he said.
Krone had ridden bareback since she was 5. She cared about her mounts and made it her business to understand them.
“When she was on the back of a horse, she was in her own world,” Forbes said.
Still, it was not easy for Krone to advance in a sport long dominated by men. There were times when she would tuck her hair under her helmet, attempting to persuade an owner to give her an opportunity. There were races when she felt as though the entire jockey colony was riding against her. There were instances when she left the track having been bloodied by the whip of another rider who resented her mere presence on the track.
Her reaction? She responded the way most men would have, using her fists to assert her right to compete.
“We separated Krone more than once,” Forbes said.
Eventually, she earned the respect of her peers and the world at large. There were appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” She continued to bring welcome attention to the sport she loved when she won an ESPY Award as Female Athlete of the Year in 1993.
Through 3,704 victories and more than $90 million in earnings, it was always about the horse for Krone. She once said of the thrill of competing: “You risk life and limb to have a relationship with a Thoroughbred. You go down the stretch and push on his neck and feel his desire to win is the same as yours. When you nail somebody at the wire, you say, ‘This is the coolest thing in the world.’ ”
As much as she relished her riding career, Krone has embraced the daily challenges of motherhood.
“It’s so hard if you do it right,” she said. “It’s also the most rewarding thing ever.”
Fun Facts About Julie Krone
- Her full name is Julieann Louise Krone.
- She made cover of Sports Illustrated on May 22, 1989, one of eight jockeys to gain that distinction.
- Her autobiography is entitled “Riding for My Life.”
- She was honored with the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
- Krone is a member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.