To trainer John Parisella, who had put her on his horses for years, she had become a rider who had truly found herself. "I always thought Angel Cordero was the best rider I ever saw," Parisella says. "But down in Florida last year, she was on his level. It was scary."
She brought it all north to New York that spring. On June 5 she became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race when she drove Colonial Affair to victory in the Belmont Stakes. At Saratoga she battled Mike Smith for the riding title. She was on live horses in every race. On Aug. 8, in a race for 2-year-old maiden fillies, she rode Lily, the baby she had been schooling in the mornings out of trainer Allen Jerkens's barn. Krone came charging off the pace to win by six lengths; Lily was a maiden no more. On Aug. 20, Krone joined Ron Turcotte and Cordero as the only riders to win five races in one-day at the Spa.
All of which heightened the pain of the fall on closing day. Even amid the agonies of the emergency room, Krone found a way to sort of ride out her card, telling Millan to call the jockeys' room and explain to John Velazquez, Lily's substitute jockey, how to ride the filly in the Spinaway Stakes, the feature race that day. Millan listened dutifully to her instructions and called the jocks' room from the hospital. "I'm relaying a message from Julie," he told Velazquez. "Be real easy with her in the gate. Don't play with her head. Loose-rein her out of there and let her sit behind horses." Lily finished sixth that day and suffered an injury that would keep her from the races until that afternoon in May when she and Krone would be reunited at Belmont Park.
For Krone, the travails had only just begun. At Saratoga Hospital she underwent surgery to align and stabilize the ankle and was fitted with a temporary cast. The next day, Aug. 31, she was flown to New York City and taken to the trauma center at Staten Island University Hospital, where Frank Ariosta, an orthopedic surgeon, viewed the damage, "It was the kind of break you see in high-speed vehicle accidents," Ariosta says. "Or in parachutists, people who jump from a height and land on one foot."
Ariosta performed two operations in nine days. On Sept. 1, using six screws, he attached a stainless steel compression plate to the broken fibula, thereby returning the leg to its normal length. On Sept. 9, Ariosta affixed a second compression plate, with eight more screws, to the shattered tibia. He then fitted her leg with a brace, rather than a cast, to permit her to move her foot. As a jockey, with her feet planted in the stirrups, she needed what therapists call "dorsi flexion"—the ability to flex both heels downward, toes up. Her rehabilitation had begun.
Krone was in the hospital for three weeks, and for all that she went through, it might as well have been three years. The nightmares began haunting her—they returned through all the months she felt the pain—and she would wake up screaming in the night to her mother, Judi, who often camped out in Julie's room. "My mother would leave her bed, and the devil would be in her bed when she got up," says Krone. "Everything I owned, he'd try to take. He was very tall and had on black, and wherever he went, there was a smell of smoke."
Just as vivid were the fears and doubts that now troubled her. Krone had been racing since she was 17, and despite the spills and brushes with disaster, she had never really faced the violent perils of the sport until she found herself writhing in agony on the deep Bermuda rug at Saratoga. Krone was born with a sense of derring-do, with what seemed like a lifetime waiver from the harsher penalties for taking chances, and now she was facing something different. "It was the first time she'd experienced any fear about the horses and racing," Judi says.
During the long and difficult convalescence she was forbidden to ride horses. She would hobble down to the barn at her farm in Colts Neck, N.J., Just to inhale the smells of oats and hay, to hear the horses munching in their stalls, to smell the leather hanging in the tack room. "I'd go to the house and just lie on my bed and sob," she says. "I've spent most of my life riding horses; the rest I've just wasted. I can never, never get enough. I cannot live without them; it's impossible. I can come to the track, ride six in the morning, ride nine races and then go home and ride my three jumpers. It was so traumatic not to be part of that."
There was even a time when Krone wondered whether she would ever make it back. Late in February she was trapped in a depression triggered by the constant pain—"I'd be up all night 'cause my ankle hurt so badly," she says—but she fought her way through it, doing therapy every other day. By the middle of April, after she spent a week riding one of her jumpers, Peter Rabbit, in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, doctors proclaimed her well enough to gallop racehorses in the morning. It was as if she had been unshackled from a sinking galley.
Early in the morning of April 21, Krone drove the 75 miles from her farm to Belmont Park, where she began the five-week regimen of working and exercising thoroughbreds in preparation for her return to racing. On that first day back, as she cruised the stable area at Belmont, visiting favorite horsemen, Krone saw Leon. "Hey, Filiberto," she teased him. "Next time you wanna make a right turn, put on your blinker." He smiled meekly, looking chagrined.