ELMONT, N.Y. -- As Julie Krone underwent the first of two operations to reconstruct her broken right ankle, the fall racing season returned to Belmont and with it the top thoroughbreds in the nation, bent on continuing their Saratoga battles for undecided '93 honors.
It will take at least half a year, but Krone will ride again, said Dr. Frank Arisota, director of orthopedics at Staten Island University Hospital, who performed yesterday's operation. Krone ranked second in the jockey standings when she was injured in a spill at Saratoga Monday.
"The first phase went well and has made us more optimistic about the second," Arisota said. "We want to wait for the swelling to go down and the skin condition to improve."
Krone, 30, probably will be unable to walk unassisted for three months and would be unable to ride for six months.
"This is not a typical athletic injury," Arisota said. "It's more like what you see in a car or plane accident. Her determination and youth, as well as the fact that she is an athlete, are all in her favor."
The second surgery is scheduled for next Thursday.
Krone, whose absence was felt yesterday, will miss a Belmont "championship meet" that boasts 33 stakes, with $6 million-plus at stake in this 42-day session.
With history makers on the horizon, 8,092 anxious fans turned out and found the waters anything but favorable to followers of form. In the first four races, only one favorite, Zeal Brown, prevailed. Then the chalk players' luck turned.
Check Ride coasted to a 4 3/4 -length victory under a hand ride by Craig Perret and returned $4 in the fifth. Had Krone, who was slated to ride before her injury, been aboard, the odds would have been closer to 1-5.
The meet was quickly shortened for Filiberto Leon and Eddie Maple. Leon was suspended seven days for careless riding and Maple 10 days for interference. Both suspensions were to start on Saturday, but Maple obtained a stay after filing an appeal.
* Rumors among the media, fostered by an anonymous fax of a report on the death of Prairie Bayou alleging that corticosteroid, a legal medication, was present in the Preakness winner at the time of his fatal accident, brought about a heated denial by John Anthony, president of Loblolly Stable.
"Never in the life of Prairie Bayou was that, or any other treatment of that nature, administered," Anthony said.
* In the featured $60,000-added Pebbles, 3-1 favorite Augusta Springs went down to defeat.
Mike Smith recorded a triple by pushing Statuette through along the rail for a neck victory at 7-1 over Tricky Princess, ridden by Jose Santos. Belle Nuit, with Jorge Velasquez, showed a half-length farther back. Statuette paid $16, $8.80 and $4.60.