because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Julie Krone

When Julie Krone was a little girl, her parents didn't worry about what she ate (sometimes it was dog food) or what she took it into her head to do (once, at thirteen, she rode her horse into the barn standing on its back wearing nothing but a deerskin around her midriff, going to a sitting position just before her head would have hit the barn door jamb). Years after her mother forged Julie's birth certificate to say that she was old enough to be a horse groomer at Churchill Downs (she was only fifteen), Julie's father said unashamedly, "There was always that element of possible disaster, can’t tell a kid to go for it, to be whatever they want to be, and also tell them to be careful. If we all ride the safe road, who will we look up to?"

The result? Julie Krone won her first horseback riding event -- for riders 21-and-under -- when she was five-years-old, going out on her own to groom and race horses in her mid-teens.  Then, when most girls would have been graduating from high school, Julie was climbing over the fence at the Tampa Bay Downs to demand that she be allowed to become an apprentice jockey.  Everybody thought it was cute until she won her first race five weeks later.

4'10" and one hundred pounds soaking wet, Julie looked like a child, but rode, said one owner, "like a god."  Still, getting the good ole boys to let her compete was not always easy.  Using charm and free donuts, Krone wheedled her way in the door, but when she had to hold her own, she knew how to do that, too.  On one occasion, when a jockey hit her ear with his whip, she punched him in the face and, in the ensuing brawl, hit him with a lawn chair.  Another incident involved Krone knocking out several of jockey Joe Bravo's teeth.

After winning the Belmont Stakes in 1993, in response to all the broohaha about Krone being the first woman to win a Triple Crown event, she said flatly, "I don’t think the question needs to be genderized. It would feel great to anyone. But whether you’re a girl or a boy or a Martian, you still have to go out and prove yourself every day."  Far from being her last word on the matter, though, when she was inducted into thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in 2000 -- having just overcome a divorce, the death of her mother, and multiple injuries on the track that left her with paralyzing anxiety and depression -- Krone walked to the microphone and said to the crowd gathered for the momentous event, "I want this to be a lesson to all kids everywhere. If the stable gate is closed, climb the fence."

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