Outside it had been madness, everyone screaming her name. Then Julie Krone, having just crossed the finish line at Belmont Park aboard a 13-to-1 long shot named Colonial Affair, came in to the small room beneath the grandstand to meet the press. There was a moment's holy hush; maybe even, among the old-timers, a quiver of spiritual dislocation. This sprout, after all; this squirt, this squiggle who looked as if she should be home eating Twinkies, not steering 1,200 pounds of horse down the homestretch at 40 miles an hour: on this June day she had become the first woman to win the 125-year-old Belmont Stakes and the first ever to win any of the Triple Crown races (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont).
You would have had to be well beyond the reach of the news media not to know that her triumph had been marred by the fate of Prairie Bayou, the favorite who had fractured a leg and had to be destroyed. Still, there had been 12 horses left and a mile to go; Krone had ridden the winner home by two and a quarter lengths.
Now, some creative thinker was asking how it felt to be the first woman blah blah blah. Krone, who had been wired and elated, said carefully: "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 again every day."
The air around Julie Krone resonates with first-woman this and best-woman that, and on some bittersweet level she resents it. Let us be beyond gender, she says. But we are not, and these firsts and bests matter. She has fought hard to achieve them in a business that has never, even in its best moments, been an equal-opportunity employer of women.
Krone is the winningest female jockey in the history of racing. She has earned purses exceeding $52 million (the jockey takes 10 percent), a figure no other woman has remotely approached.