She's the man

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Afterward, the guys would tease her in the jocks' room while Krone was gripping her gut in pain. "They were like, 'Oh, did you hurt your you-know-whats?'" Krone says. "It was one of those things where you laugh so you don't cry. It didn't, like, give a rebirth to any of my fears, but my subconscious said, 'This is not what I want to have happen. I do not want to be hurt again.'

"And that was kind of my choice."
On April 8, Krone announced her retirement at a news conference in New York, shocking many of her fellow riders. No one seems to go out on top in this sport. Dwindling success, a losing battle with weight, and serious injury are all that end riders' careers.

Krone, the freak, was gonna be different. She would go out on top.
She pledged to keep her last round of commitments, a couple of stakes mounts for Keen and Stidham at Lone Star Park.

It is Sunday, April 18, the finale, 20 years since Julie Krone's mom altered her daughter's birth certificate so the 16-year-old could get a job as a hot walker at Churchill Downs. It was her first racetrack job, walking horses after a race or morning workout, a first step on the way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a jockey.

She would post her first win two years later at cheesy little Tampa Bay Downs.

It wasn't long before she got hit with a lengthy suspension for marijuana use--a youthful indiscretion--and gained a reputation for riding hard, finishing strong, maintaining a catlike physique, and scrapping with the male jockeys. One fight that ended in a swimming pool has become racing legend.

Today, it's hard to reconcile the girl who clobbered her fellow jockey with a pool chair and the grown woman who's posing with fellow riders in Lone Star's paddock just before the first race.

The track has planned several events in Krone's honor, and for this one, a chef wheels out an enormous white-frosted cake decorated with Krone's caricature. As cameras click, a couple of the guys shove her face in it.

Not a good move. A track official speculates that the cake episode has "pissed off" Krone enough that she blows off our scheduled interview with the snotty line, "I think I've been gracious enough today." ("For her, that's probably true," says one of the racing writers who has covered Krone for years. Apparently, it doesn't take long to exhaust her graciousness quotient.)

Several hours later, the cake lies untouched in the jockey's quarters. It points up a dilemma: You can bake a cake for a jock, but none of these wizened, hollow-cheeked men can afford to eat it.

Not that it matters. Krone plants a rigid smile on her face through the day's festivities, but her mind clearly is on business.

Maybe she's fuming over that nasty white frosting during the second race when she somehow extracts her filly from the back of the pack, blows past a traffic jam on the final turn, and wins going away, whip popping.

She takes the next race too, with another come-from-behind ride that finds her at the wire in perfect rhythm with her mount; no whip necessary this time.

And improbably, she wins her next time up, pushing from behind again on a fast track that supposedly favors front-runners.

From then on, the intensity is evident in her face even as she poses for photographs all the way from winner's circle to the jockey's room. It is there that she turns temperamental again when a male photographer tries to shoot her while she's getting a massage.

Three consecutive wins are followed by a respectable third-place finish in the Texas Mile on Allen's Oop, Dallas Keen's horse. Krone's mother, ailing and in a wheelchair, emerges to watch her daughter race. According to Krone, it's the first time her mother has ever seen her race live.

Judi Krone, who shares her daughter's passion for horses, seems a little anxious when Julie moves onto the track for her final ride aboard Desert Demon, a tough-running 3-year-old stakes horse favored to win the $300,000 Lone Star Derby.

It's one more chance to win, to go out in the most glamorous way possible, or one more chance to end up "in the grass...with my bones poking through my skin," as Krone will say later, recalling her 1993 spill.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons