Julie Krone is pacing all over the jockeys' lounge at Pimlico, chattering in a squeaky voice that should be coming from a TV cartoon character.
"I just can't keep my eyes open today," she complains about an hour before post time. "Rode at Penn National last night and didn't get home till almost 10:30. I finished second, but they put me back to fourth on an inquiry. I didn't shut anybody off or anything. I'm just trying to win races."
For as long as she can remember, all Julie Krone has wanted to do is win horse races. Throughout her Eau Claire, Mich., childhood, Krone told anyone who would listen that she was going to be a jockey. All those who smiled indulgently at such fantasy should look at Krone's performance charts.
At the recently completed Bowie meeting, the 18-year-old jockey rode 26 winners, 25 as an apprentice. She would have finished as Bowie's leading apprentice, but lost her "bug," or apprentice weight allowance, a week before the meet ended. Krone has yet to win a race at Pimlico, but she's not discouraged.
"Before, I was riding five or six horses a day. Now I'm down to three or four. But some jockeys get depressed after they lose their bug and won't ride," Krone said. "Not me. You've got to be on live horses every day, and sooner or later, one of those losers will be a winner. I work too hard to be a loser."
Krone's trackwise manner suggests that she might have grown up on the backstretch. In fact, she's been around race tracks only slightly more than three years.
"When we started out, we didn't know anything about race track life," said Krone's mother, Judy, who trains show horses. "But this was what Julie wanted to do, and so we found out."
The "we" refers to mother and daughter, who traveled to Churchill Downs in 1979 for the spring meet, looking for work as hot walkers. Judy Krone had watched Julie ride in horse shows, had worked with her in breaking young horses and had seen her determination. Together they read "The Shoe," a book about Willie Shoemaker's accomplishments.
"Julie and Shoe are pretty much the same dimensions, so she would study pictures of just where his body was on a horse, at what point in a race. Then she would imitate those pictures by galloping her Arabian stallion around a field," her mother said. "She was 15."
After a stint of hot walking in Kentucky, Krone rode the Michigan county fair circuit during the summer of 1980, racing quarter horses, Arabians and Appaloosas. "I was lucky. I had friends who owned those horses--you know, connections are everything," she said. "Of course, I was good, too, so if you're good and lucky, you can't do anything wrong."
Krone's next stop was Tampa Bay Downs, where she lived with her grandparents. At Tampa Bay she got a job as an exercise rider and her jockey's license. Trainer Jerry Pace took a liking to Krone's brash competence and put her on several of his horses.
She finished second by a head in her first race, then won twice on a tough gelding named Lord Farkle. "I started to feel like a jockey," she said.
One of Krone's buddies at Tampa Bay was Julie Snellings, a former jockey who was paralyzed after a fall in 1977. Snellings, a secretary at the track, was impressed with this cocky pixie who has no fear and a good seat. She persuaded jockey's agent Chick Lang Jr. to take Krone's book and bring her to Bowie.
"It sounds crazy but I knew the first time I met Julie, she'd be a star. She has such charisma and confidence, you can't help but think that," Lang said. Although no longer Krone's agent, he is still concerned with her career. "I'm not her agent; I'm not her father, but in a way, I'm both."
When Krone started riding at Bowie, she lived with Lang's family in Timonium, where she happily played the role of big sister to Lang's four kids. "She's got an apartment of her own in Laurel now, but when things get bad, professionally or personally, Julie will come here and do her laundry. And stay a few days," Lang said.
Krone knows no woman jockey has really made it big. "That's why I'm going to do it," she said. Eager to speed up the process, Krone is on the backstretch early, galloping six or seven horses by 10 a.m.
It doesn't seem to occur to Krone that she's actually working. Running around the jockeys' room wearing a T-shirt that says, "The Shoe Wants You," she's offering a commentary on another rider's performance, griping that her face is breaking out "because of all the chocolate at Chicky's (Lang's) house."
Stopping for breath, she informs the room at large that her tonsils have to come out, not noticing the nonreaction greeting this announcement. "But I don't have time to go."
Ask Krone how many career victories she has had, and she replies, "Find out and tell me." For the record, it's 151 races, and $981,587 total purses. She's got a few rides to go before catching her idol, Shoemaker. CAPTION: Picture, Julie Krone, 18, rode 25 winners as an apprentice at Bowie and is now riding at Pimlico. Her mounts have won nearly $1 million in total purses. By Joel Richardson--The Washington Post