Julieann Louise Krone, 30 years old, had been waiting nine months for this, waiting from the moment her ordeal began, through all the pain and doubts and anxieties that had so besieged her; through the shattered bones and the hole through which she could see the shiny nub of her left elbow; through the operations and the morphine, the casts and crutches, the needles and wheelchairs; through those nightmares about the devil who smelled like smoke and visited her hospital room at night, taking all that she possessed; through the months of hobbling on one leg, unable to mount a horse; and, finally, through the days of fearing that she would never come back and the depressions that kept her for hours in bed and the months of rehab-cum-boredom that led her, ever so slowly, back to the horses on her farm and at the track.
On Aug. 30, 1993, coming off the turn for home in the third at Saratoga, a race of 12 maidens on the grass, Krone was tooling along in fifth place on the 2-1 favorite, Seattle Way. Krone was about to set her down for the drive when a horse in front of her on the inside—Bejilla Lass, with Filiberto Leon riding—suddenly moved to the right, into Krone's path. Standing up, she screamed, "No, No!" It was too late.
Seattle Way's left foreleg grabbed one of Bejilla Lass's back heels, and Krone's mount crashed headfirst to the turf, catapulting her, end over end, through the air. Krone landed hard on her right ankle and ended up sitting on the grass and facing one of the oncoming horses, Two Is Trouble, who was bearing down too fast for jockey Jorge Chavez to snatch her out of Krone's way. Two Is Trouble's flying hoof slammed into Krone's chest, knocking her into a backward somersault. Chavez looked back in horror as his horse galloped on through the lane.
"I saw her lying there, not moving," Chavez says. "I thought, Oh, no.... I hope she's all right. I tried to avoid her, but it was too fast."
The instant she felt Seattle Way and Bejilla Lass clip heels, Krone was caught in a kind of eerie free fall through spinning shadows, turning light to dark to light again. "You are falling and your eye watches things travel by," Krone says. "Have you ever been swimming in the ocean? And you try to ride a wave and you get caught in the wave, all of a sudden you are tumbling over, and you think, 'There's the shore,' but suddenly you're turning over and bumping your head on the sand and you go, 'Wow! Which way is up?' Then another wave hits you and you turn over again and think, 'Let me outta here!' That's what it's like, and you are lying there with whatever's left."
Whatever else she was left with, the Fates had contrived to leave her alive. Krone had been wearing a protective vest for more than a year, ever since jockey Jerry Bailey had urged her to don the optional piece of gear, and doctors have told her that without the vest the filly's blow to her chest likely would have killed her. Krone suffered a cardiac contusion, a relatively minor injury that has since healed. Not incidentally, the New York Racing Association has since made the two-pound vests mandatory equipment for all jockeys at its tracks.
The fall, as X-rays would reveal, had turned her ankle into a ruin of fragmented bones. When Krone landed, twisting as she planted the foot in the grass, the concussion and torque shattered the bottoms of the tibia and fibula and caused extensive soft-tissue damage. Krone had been hurt before—the standard jockey allotment of broken bones, bruises, tears and pulls—but never anything so devastating. By the time her agent, Larry (Snake) Cooper, had reached her, she was holding her ankle in her right hand and her left arm in the air, revealing the wound in the crook of her elbow.
"You could see my elbow socket," she says. "I couldn't move my arm. My right leg was so hot, like someone had put it in a fire, a heat that I had never felt before. I've had bones that were broken clean in two, so you can tell when something's broken and it's not so bad, but this was beyond that. This was like I could feel how mutilated it was. Normally you can say things to separate yourself from the pain: 'O.K., breathe. Do yoga. Don't lose control.' But with this, there was no control. My neck hurt and I couldn't breathe. I had no faculties. I was in outer space. I tried to pass out, but I couldn't. I swear, if I'd had the choice then, I would have contemplated suicide because it hurt so bad."
In the emergency room at Saratoga Hospital, the morphine softened the pain to the point that it was merely intolerable. By then, her ankle had swollen so badly that removing her boot became a medical ordeal on the order of an amputation. She howled when a doctor tried to cut it off. "Let Tony do it!" she cried. Stepping aside, the doctor handed the scissors to her valet, Tony Millan, who perspired like a surgeon under O.R. lights as he sliced and snipped the boot free.
The injury ended the most dazzling year of Krone's life as a rider, one that began with her leading all jockeys at Gulf-stream Park, in Florida, where she had seemed to raise her game to an almost magical level. Newsday's veteran handicapper, John Pricci, a longtime Krone observer, watched with fascination for nearly two weeks at Gulfstream. "She was in the sweet spot of every race I saw her in," Pricci says. "I mean, Julie was in a zone."