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SHE WHO LAUGHS LAST...
Gary Smith
May 22, 1989
...laughs lustily, which is just what Julie Krone can do as she sits astride the horse racing world
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May 22, 1989

She Who Laughs Last...

...laughs lustily, which is just what Julie Krone can do as she sits astride the horse racing world

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It has only been a little more than 20 years since men let women ride racehorses. So kind of them, eh? They made Kathy Kusner go to court before they begrudged her a jockey's license at Laurel racetrack in Maryland in 1968. They boycotted Penny Ann Early when she tried to get a mount at Churchill Downs that same year. They stoned Barbara Jo Rubin's trailer in '69, at Tropical Park in Miami. Still want to ride, ladies? A few of them did.

Some, like Robyn Smith and Diane Crump, caught the public's eye for a while, and then they were gone. Others became regulars at small racetracks and made a decent living, far from the big boys and the big purses.

And then came Julie Krone.

At last, people said. The trailblazer. Yes, women are strong enough physically to keep a half-ton of tired horseflesh in rhythm down the stretch. Women are calloused enough emotionally to survive this sport full of Latin machismo, this business full of eyes and hearts as hard as hooves.

And then they looked behind her. There was no one in Krone's wake. "She has cut a path through the deepest, darkest jungle," says Linda McBurney, an exercise rider who abandoned her career as a jockey after 20 races. "She cut it so fast and so clean that it closed off behind her. She's not a trailblazer for female jockeys. She's a freak of nature."

One day last summer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, after her horse had broken both front legs at the quarter-pole and sent her crashing to the track, her boyfriend, a commercial photographer named Jerry Casciano, raced to the first-aid station to find her. He was told she had headed toward the jockeys' swimming pool. He rushed onto the pool deck and saw her lying on a bench, the track doctor standing over her. "Julie," he cried, "are you O.K.?"

She looked up at him for a moment. Then she sprang off the bench, did a cartwheel into a backwards handspring and went flying—arms up to accept applause—into the pool.

Mother, your daughter is crying, out
in the night and cold
Let me in and forgive me, I'll never be bad any more!
I'm oh, so sick and so sorry. Please,
dear mother, don't scold
It's just your daughter and she wants
you. Mother, open the door....

You see, Julie's mother didn't stop to think. She had the palomino at an indoor riding ring and she was talking a mile a minute, trying to convince a woman that the horse was a steal for 800 bucks. Look how sweet he is, she was saying, look how gentle, how perfect for teaching your kids to ride. And with a swoop of her arms, she put two-year-old Julie on a horse's back for the first time, and the horse trotted off with the baby. "There," Judi Krone said to the woman, "you see?" The palomino cantered off to the wall and stopped. The two-year-old girl reached down, grabbed the reins and tugged them to one side, as if she knew that was what the moment called for. The horse turned and trotted back. The mother looked at the horse and at the baby in diapers and slowly realized what she was seeing. It didn't really surprise her. That baby was riding before she was even born, to tell the truth, bouncing in the womb of a woman whose life seemed to make sense only when she was touching or smelling a horse. Dangerous? Miscarriage? Don't fence me in. The mother had grown up reading every horse book she could get her little fingers on—Misty of Chincoteague, Billy and Blaze, The Black Stallion. Had grown up with a horse book tucked inside a school book so her parents and teachers wouldn't know. Kids rode horses in those books. Kids didn't fall in those books. Kids didn't take a hoof in the skull.

Judi, you're living in a dream world, people would tell her, but every time she looked out and saw her baby girl gliding bareback across the field, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, holding nothing but a handful of mane, she would feel tears filling her eyes. Tears of love, tears of jealousy. Her little girl's childhood was the childhood she had read about in all those books, the childhood she should have had, she would have had, if only she hadn't been a girl in a three-story apartment house in Chicago, a girl whose ears were filled with don'ts, whose horizons were full of fences, whose parents were the strictest of Baptists. If only she hadn't been who she was.

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