wheelchair hit a pothole. Snellings went flying, Krone grabbed her hair and
yanked her back just before she struck the ground. Snellings turned and punched
her. "What's that for?" gasped Krone.
On Aug. 25, 1981,
four years to the day after the accident that had paralyzed her, Snellings
looked up and saw Krone striding through the paddock, committing the taboo of
taboos in a sport rife with superstition—wearing the boots and pants her friend
had worn on the day of her fall. All the grooms and jockeys stared at
Snellings's name, stitched right across the back. "It terrified me,"
says Snellings. "I was sure she was going to go down too." Krone
scoffed, climbed into the saddle, and for the first time in her life, won three
races in one day. "God, how I wished I was her," says Snellings.
"She was exactly the kind of person I needed around me in those first few
years after my accident, so tough, so determined not to let anything in the
world get in her way."
There was no
choice, no turning back; her past kept sealing up behind her, like a zipper
closing. The people she met at each track scattered every three or four months,
at the end of a meet, like gypsies. Her brother moved to Maryland, her mother
to Florida. She had an argument with her mom; for 17 months they didn't talk.
The farm she grew up on was sold; her horse Ralph was sold. Her best friend
from her school days was killed on a motorcycle. She had no high school
diploma. She had staked everything on a single premise, a solitary moon, and
all she could do was keep her eye on the sky and keep running, keep riding.
Every time a meet finished, she packed her suitcase, her three teddy bears and
the cat's litter box into the trunk of her car, wedged her bike into the back
seat, put the cat, Skaggs, in the passenger seat and headed for the next track.
Again and again and again. The problem she had with her life became the same as
the problem she had with her car—the further down she pushed the accelerator,
the lower she sank in her seat, the less she could see over the dashboard. Her
phone number? She listed it in the directory, so she could dial 411 and ask the
operator for it when she needed it. Her address? She made sure she carried
around a piece of mail sent to her at each new apartment, so she could read her
street number off the envelope. She unscrewed the horses off the trophies she
won, kept them and threw out the bases and metal plates underneath. Another
mount, another track, another bag of carrots and another box of crullers. Get
her five mounts a day or she couldn't sleep at night. Get her five in the
afternoon in Philly and five at night at Atlantic City, and she was living.
Once or twice,
with one or two special people, she let the tears sting her eyes and run down
her face. How could they hand the reins to men with half her skill? How could
they ignore her? She would go home to her apartment and hate herself for a few
hours, eat everything in the refrigerator and then hate herself a little more.
She would show up at the barns the next morning at 6:30 instead of 7:00, go to
a gym for three hours at night and burn off all the spit and vinegar they
hadn't let her use up that day at the track, then grab a take-out salad and eat
it, alone, stroking her cat.
One day, Bud
Delp, trainer of Spectacular Bid and a fleet of other Cadillacs, looked up from
his newspaper. Then John Forbes, one of the East Coast's top trainers, did too.
Horsemen secure enough to stand their ground when owners grumbled, "I don't
want any damn——on my horse," or when the jackals at the rail barked.
"What're you doing, John, sleepin' with her?"
You see, they
couldn't dismiss her. She rode in this tight little ball that a horse hardly
seemed to notice on its back, and she had hands that cabled a message through
the reins down to a horse's mouth, through its neck, to its heart. It's O.K. to
be nervous, it's all right to tremble and snort, the message said. I won't
fight you. I trust you more than them. I'm with you; it's you and me against
the world. Other riders had to yank back on a colt that was chomping to run too
soon in a race; she barely had to move her hands. Other riders had to slash the
whip 15 times down the stretch; she might get the same acceleration with two.
She bucked and strained and scrapped with human beings; she was sure and easy
But there was so
much still to learn, so many little flaws, so much ground to make up. She
didn't want to be the best girl jockey of her time—didn't they see?—she wanted
to be the best jockey of all time. "Every little incident that made her
think she wasn't there yet, she became fixated on it," says Forbes. "If
she was working on the technique of coming around the turn and drifting out
just enough to make the horse outside her go off at an angle, she'd do it no
matter what the situation in the race. Hell, I remember seeing her taking this
one jockey two thirds of the way across the track. One day she got Laffit
Pincay and Pat Day trapped behind two horses that stopped running halfway
through the race, kept them pinned there the whole race and won by a neck.
There they were, two of the greatest riders in the sport, screaming at her to
let them the hell out, and she wouldn't budge. "What kind of riding is
that?' Day screams at her after the race. 'Race riding, Pat,' she says to him.
'I used you." She became a diabolical rider."
her, galloped over her, knocked her unconscious, but she sprang back up and
asked for more. At night in her bed she twitched and lurched, felt herself
being heaved off a horse in a race just as she was falling off to sleep; by day
she charged through holes others wouldn't dream of trying. "Ballsy little
bitch," the men at the track started to grunt; but then, maybe they were
wrong. Maybe it had nothing to do with courage or testosterone, maybe it had to
do only with who, in that quiet moment at the starting gate, needed it the
most. "You're nothing if you don't win," she would snarl at herself.
"This is all you have in the world, nothing else." She began wearing a
white headband with a red sun on the front when she rode; like some crazed
kamikaze pilot, she would run and ricochet down the tunnel to the paddock.
In 1982, at 19,
she won the riding title at Atlantic City; beat every man on the grounds. Now
they knew what she was after. Now they started taking her seriously. Yves
Turcotte smacked her horse across the head with his whip—accidentally, he said
later—as they battled down the stretch one day at Pimlico; a few minutes later,
her shove sent him flying off the weigh-in scales. Jake Nied grappled with her
in the jocks' room after she'd sawed him off at Keystone; bystanders had to
tear them apart. Miguel Rujano slashed her ear with his whip after she'd ridden
in on him at Monmouth; she punched him in the face, he tackled her into the
jockeys' swimming pool, she hit him with a lounge chair. No man, by god, would