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In the saddling Paddock at Belmont Park late last Saturday afternoon, 15 minutes before the start of the 125th running of the Belmont Stakes, trainer Flint (Scotty) Schulhofer lifted Julie Krone onto the broad back of his towering bay colt, Colonial Affair, slapped him on the side and sent them on their way. "You can do it," Schulhofer told Krone.
Krone gathered the reins and headed for the track as though sensing, in the chill gray air, the destiny that awaited her. Patting Colonial Affair on the neck, Krone leaned forward and said, "Let's go out and make some history."
That, of course, is precisely what they did. Showing the patience, intelligence and tactical savvy that have made her one of the nation's leading performers in a game long dominated by men, the 29-year-old Krone became the first female rider in history to win the Belmont Stakes—the first, in fact, to win any leg of the Triple Crown. As Krone galloped toward the winner's circle a few minutes after the race, her face bespattered with mud and the applause of thousands ringing in her ears, an ebullient George Martens, a former jockey who is Colonial Affair's morning exercise rider, was the first among a charging entourage to greet her. "Beautiful job, Julie!" said Martens.
Looking down at him, she said, "How do you stop cryin'?"
"You don't," Martens said.
While Colonial Affair's handlers led him and his rider into the winner's circle, a nearly speechless Krone spotted Bobby Duncan, head of the starting-gate crew, striding behind her. "I won the Belmont, Bobby," she kept saying. "I won the Belmont, Bobby!"
If this was the finest moment in Krone's 12-year career, the mood quickly turned sour when word spread that the most consistent of this year's 3-year-olds, Prairie Bayou, who had won the Preakness three weeks earlier after having finished second in the Kentucky Derby, had broken down on the backstretch. Jockey Mike Smith had tried desperately to pull Prairie Bayou to a stop, to prevent him from compounding his injury, but the gelding was hobbling so badly that he lost his rider.
Smith was not hurt when he fell to the muddy track, but by the time Prairie Bayou stopped running, he had suffered multiple injuries to his left front leg: a compound fracture of his cannon bone, two shattered sesamoid bones in the ankle and a broken pastern. For the young chestnut's owners and handlers, the worst of all racetrack nightmares had begun.
Even before Krone and Colonial Affair had reached the winner's circle, Prairie Bayou's trainer, Tom Bohannan, was dashing across the broad expanse of Belmont's infield lawn to get to his horse. At the same time, one of his owners, John Ed Anthony, his face a chalky mask, was walking up the homestretch, trying to find a ride to the stricken animal.
Prairie Bayou's leg was so severely injured that it was impossible to save him. So, 30 minutes after the colt broke down, a veterinarian destroyed him by administering a lethal injection. Smith, Bohannan and Anthony came to the end of the afternoon together, in tears.