Jockey Julie Krone had a different kind of glass ceiling to bust through than Billie Jean King, Lindsey Vonn or Alex Morgan did—because at least for the latter three, there were women’s versions of their sport (tennis, skiing and soccer, if you’re keeping track). Since its inception, horse racing has largely been a male-dominated sport, with only a little more than 10 percent of jockeys being women. But beating the boys at their own game wasn’t much of a problem for Krone throughout her decorated career.
Krone, who grew up in Eau Claire, MI, caught the jockey bug at 14, won her first race at 16 and, shortly thereafter, became a veritable winning machine. Besides scoring riding titles at Monmouth Park, Belmont Park and Gulfstream Park, among others, Krone became the first woman in history to win a Triple Crown race, taking the 1993 Belmont Stakes aboard Colonial Affair; the first to win a Breeders’ Cup race in 2003; and the first to be inducted into the horse racing Hall of Fame in 2000. (That’s only the tip of the iceberg.)
In recent years, she’s worked as a racing broadcaster, and last summer launched her own Junior Jockey Camp, about 40 minutes east of Saratoga in Cambridge, NY, serving as a host and instructor (this year’s camp is on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis). And just this past May, Krone announced that she’d be working as an agent to 28-year-old woman jockey Ferrin Peterson, whom she met at Del Mar Racetrack and has high hopes for (Peterson’s also an acupuncturist and veterinarian).
Saratoga Living caught up with the Hall of Famer from her home in California.
You’re a legend here in Saratoga. What is it about this town that sets it apart from all other racing towns?
It’s like if you fell asleep and dreamed of a town where everybody loves racing—you got to eat racing, talk racing, sleep racing, watch racing and listen to racing. There’s nothing that Saratoga doesn’t have that you want. Even when you’re relaxing, you can go to Lyrical Ballad Bookstore and thumb through old racing books.
It’s going to be a tough season at Saratoga this year without spectators—but history is going to happen here, whether there are fans here or not. What…?
[interrupts] I predict there’s going to be a listening area, where people can hear the races being called, and I bet you people start setting up spots where they can go to the races and listen to them all day. Because I used to love that. I used to drive by the track and be like, “What’s happening?” I’d roll down my window to see what race it was. I think they’re going to make a designated area for those hardcore racing people who want to hear the races live. Especially, the stakes races. Turn the speakers towards the [road] and let us get a little of that Saratoga sound, man.
You have an interesting relationship with Saratoga. You’ve won a lot here—but you also took a nasty spill here in 1993 aboard the filly Seattle Way. Can you speak to that dichotomy a bit?
I’ve never told anybody this story before. I became allergic to the titanium and stainless steel—all the hardware that was holding my leg together [after the spill]—and I had to have it all removed. So, when I had it removed, I had some downtime, and I was in Saratoga. I walked to the top of the stretch and I pretended that I was on Seattle Way and rode my race all the way to the wire. And then, at the wire, I laid down on the grass and looked up at the sky for a little while, thinking about my life and how much I loved Saratoga, and then I got up and walked off the track.
You have all these firsts in your career. First woman in the Hall of Fame, first woman to win a Triple Crown race and onward. Which of your firsts is the sweetest?
Multiple win days, without a doubt. There’s nothing like when it all comes together. One day, I rode four races at Monmouth Park, got in a car, drove to the helicopter pad with my jockey clothes on, got flown to Belmont, had a little bite to eat and a little rest, rode the last four races, and I won five races that day and I had three seconds. I got in my car that night in Monmouth to drive home, and I looked at the steering wheel and thought, “This is so anticlimactic! Now, I have to drive a car?”
What would be your message to a young girl with the dream of becoming a jockey?
The drive has to come from somewhere so deep inside of you. Nobody can tell you “no,” and you have to have the biggest ego. You have to really be strong to be a jockey. And really know your horses.