Back in the Saddle (and Winner’s Circle)
When Julie Krone, at 39, announced last month that she was going to ride horses again, there were many skeptics, one of whom was the retired Scotty Schulhofer, the trainer who put her on Colonial Affair in the Belmont Stakes in 1993, when Krone became the first -- and still only -- woman to win a Triple Crown race.
She had won 3,546 races -- by far the most by a female jockey -- and was elected into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2000, but Krone still had been away from the riding part of the game since 1999.
“I wish her all the luck, but I wish she’d reconsider,” Schulhofer said. “Jocks that quit and try to come back hardly ever make it. You can go all the way back to Earl Sande and find that.”
But as Laura de Seroux, one of the trainers who has provided horses for Krone to ride during morning training hours, said, “It doesn’t make any difference what any of us think. Julie’s determined to do this, and nobody’s going to talk her out of it.”
Krone, who is 4 feet 10 1/2 and weighs about 100 pounds, rode her first race back at Santa Anita on Nov. 1, finishing fourth. She rode five more times at Santa Anita, rode once on Wednesday, opening day at Hollywood Park, and then Thursday, in the last race, she was aboard Jade Vixen, a 3-year-old maiden filly, for a six-length victory. It was her first since a three-win day at Lone Star Park on April 19, 1999, which was also supposed to be the day she ended her career.
Question: Now that you’ve won your first race since your return, do you feel like the monkey’s off your back?
Answer: That’s a question that I can’t really answer, because I didn’t feel there was a monkey up there to begin with. I’m older and calmer, and I knew I was going to win a race sooner or later. All I’m trying to do is get some nice horses to ride and establish some momentum out here.
Q: What will you remember about your first win back?
A: Down the stretch, I just cut the filly loose. I looked up at the TV board and saw that I had a comfortable lead. I thought to myself, [trainer Jose DeLima] could have ridden this horse and won, and he’s got one of his arms in a cast [because of a training accident]. Jose owns the filly with Judy and Don Barber, and I sensed an omen there. Judy and Don have the same names as my parents.
Q: Jade Vixen was a heavy 9-10 favorite. Were you nervous because most people expected you to win?
A: Riding a horse favored like that just gives me more confidence, and when I’m confident, I don’t get any performance jitters. I’d be more nervous if I was riding a horse in a big race and he was 20-1.
Q: What do you say to people who question your returning after being away so long?
A: I just love horses -- I always have since I was a little girl -- and there’s nothing that makes me happier than riding them. I’ve heard people say that horses aren’t very smart, but I don’t buy that. They’ve got personalities, they’ve got psyches, and that’s another challenging part about riding, trying to get into those psyches so you can do your best with them.
Q: Has riding changed while you’ve been away?
A: I don’t think so. But getting ready to ride takes more work. I’ve been getting on between three and six horses in the mornings, but so far I haven’t been getting that many mounts in the afternoons, and that means I’ve got to work harder to keep fit. When I rode in the East, I’d ride day and night, one track in the afternoon and another in the evening, and by the end you’d have been in nine to 18 races at both places. Riding like that, you’re bound to stay fit.
Q: The race you won Thursday was the only race you rode all day. What did you do to get ready?
A: I’ve been running every day and going to the gym a lot. [Thursday,] I did some wind sprints for about 20 minutes and lifted some 20-pound dumbbells to strengthen both of my arms.
Q: Although you and your husband, columnist Jay Hovdey of the Daily Racing Form, live in Carlsbad, you’ve taken an apartment in Pasadena, haven’t you?
A: Yes, that’s to be closer to the tracks. It’s worked out fine, except I don’t have my TV working yet. I can’t wait for the cable guy to get there.
Q: Speaking of TV, when you rode in New York, you were an occasional guest on the David Letterman show. Heard anything from Letterman lately?
A: No, but maybe that’s because he’s in New York and I’m out here.
Q: What adjustments will you have to make to win consistently in California?
A: They ride more aggressively leaving the gate out here. Much of the time, you’ve got to put your horse into the race earlier to have a chance. But I can do that. That shouldn’t be a problem.
Q: Who’s your agent?
A: Brian Beach, and I’m lucky to have him. He’s got Mike Smith, another New York rider who came out here and, after not hitting it off right away, has settled in and is doing great. I knew Brian when he was back East, but he never worked with me. I haven’t had that many agents over the years. I had the same one [Larry “Snake” Cooper] for 12 years, you know.
Q: A female rider has never made an impact in California. Any thoughts about that?
A: I’d be the wrong one to ask, since I’ve never ridden out here on a regular basis. I’ll be just as competitive as I’ve ever been, maybe more, and I won’t be taking anything for granted. No matter what you’ve done anywhere else, you’ve got to earn your way where you are.
Q: Any goals?
A: I hadn’t thought much about any, but getting to 4,000 wins would be nice. I was looking at the stats the other day. If I reached 4,000, that would put me among the 50 winningest riders of all time. That’d be great company to be in, wouldn’t it?