Racing: Krone ready to scale the highest barrier

Breeders' Cup: The most successful woman jockey in the world is keen to make another breakthrough in Saturday's championship races
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The Independent Online

There is a dream out there, a result so romantically complex, that even here on the fringes of Tinseltown no scriptwriter would dare commit it to paper.

Yet strange things are happening in these parts if the recent gubernatorial result and the hottest October week for 60 years are a barometer. So we must prepare ourselves for the big one in Breeders' Cup XX at Santa Anita on Saturday, we must ready ourselves for a Classic victory for Funny Cide and Julie Krone.

The gelding's name suggests death by laughter, which might have been the result had anyone mentioned that the blue-collar horse would all but win the US Triple Crown this season. Funny Cide is trained by the veteran Barclay Tagg and owned by a group of former High School pals known as the Sackatoga Stable. They have taken to arriving at the racecourse by yellow stretch limo. Fares, these days, are not a problem.

Despite his defeat in the Belmont Stakes, Funny Cide has been the story of this American season and he can still win the Horse of the Year honour which carries so much prestige Stateside. The tale of the last two decades, though, may be that of Julie Krone, perhaps the most significant female athlete in a man's realm.

When she retired three and a half years ago, Krone had won 17 per cent of her races, over 3,500 of them, and exceeded $81m (£50m) in career earnings. It was a beautiful story and one with an addendum as Krone is now back and perhaps, at 40, in the best form of her sporting career.

There is plenty more to Krone than meets the eye, particularly as she stands at just 4ft 10in. This week, as she has done many times before, she managed the paradoxical trick of dominating a room by being the smallest person in it. You could almost tread on her physically. Mentally that would be impossible. She has not stacked up her statistics weedily.

She played with a swizzle stick in her drink yesterday and looked up at us, a pair of spectacles in her bleached blonde hair. She told us that now was perhaps the most contented time of her life. "My father said he would disown me if I ever became a jockey, but if you want to be a rider you are willing to change body parts to do that," she said. "You have to be big and strong and it comes from something deep inside your heart. It's unstoppable and immeasurable.

"But I am different now to when I was younger. I'm more wealthy, and I mean in experience. Because of that I feel stronger and that makes the whole deal mean more to me. I have a great level of appreciation that everything is going so right for me.

"There is more depth to me now, more empathy with other people in the game and what their horses mean to them. It's more fun to share this whole thing with other people."

Julie Krone understands the counterbalance to all this. In August 1993, at Saratoga, she suffered an accident so brutal that it almost took her life away. Earlier this season she sustained three crushed vertebrae in a starting-gate incident. Yet she is back yet again and pitching for the Oak Tree fall-season title at Santa Anita.

They will never take her accomplishments away, the first woman in the Hall Of Fame, the first and only to win a Triple Crown race, the 1993 Belmont Stakes on Colonial Affair. Yet Julie Krone does not like to be defined by her sex. As she plays with what remains of the ice in her tumbler, she talks about acceptance as a jockey without the gender qualification.

"After the Belmont Stakes someone asked how it felt to be a girl and winning the Belmont. I said I'd never been a boy who won the Belmont so I didn't know the difference. But I added that as just a jockey it was a really satisfying, fun feeling."

Perhaps another first is now within reach. There has never been a successful woman jockey at a Breeders' Cup meeting (Blyth Miller has won a Breeders' Cup Chase) but now Krone has four chances. Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies is the standout, as they say round here, but only in terms of prospects.

The outstanding result for posterity would be Krone and Funny Cide. "Being a woman here is incidental," she says. "It would mean a lot to me to win if I was a boy or a Martian. I think that if me and Funny Cide win it would be so sweet that people's teeth would fall out."

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