NEW YORK -- Julie Krone can talk about it now, now that the danger has passed from a 1,200-pound horse hitting her directly above the heart, now that she has survived a cardiac contusion through the help of a 2-pound vest.
"It was a breath-taking force," she recalled. "But at the same time, I could feel the vest protecting me."
The jockey met the press yesterday for the first time since Aug. 30, when she tumbled off her horse at Saratoga.
Dr. Frank Ariosta, director of orthopedic surgery of Staten Island University Hospital, who put her right ankle together in two complicated operations, has assured her she will ride again, maybe even in six months, if she doesn't do anything rash. And the two agreed that the accident could have been worse, much worse.
"It's clear in the replay," Ariosta said yesterday. "She fell from a height and she had a twisting injury. But also, you can see her sit straight up and this horse comes along and stomps her."
Krone remembers watching the rest of the pack galloping straight toward her, and she remembers the jolt when one of them ran straight into her.
"I kept thinking, 'Pass out. Please, pass out,' " Krone said. "I was really scared. For the first time in my life, I said, 'This is really dangerous. This is scary.' "
Ariosta added, "It's hard to say if it would have been mortal, but there is a good chance she wouldn't have been here today."
TC The difference was the 2-pound vest, the Tipperary brand, that Krone has pulled onto her 100-pound frame for the past two years. There is no law that says the jockeys have to wear the vest, but Krone has been willing to carry the extra 2 pounds.
Krone and her surgeon insist that every jockey should wear one of these vests, that the additional 2 pounds should be mandatory. And they are absolutely right. What difference do 2 extra pounds make?
As it is, Krone was within hours of being sent home last evening, ready to start the daily therapy. Ariosta has operated on several other jockeys and he visits the track and he will tell you that jockeys are world-level athletes who are the best patients because of their motivation.
Ariosta has given Krone all the appropriate lectures about not putting any weight on the ankle for 10-16 weeks, but he also knows this 30-year-old jockey is as rambunctious as the thoroughbreds she rides.
There was a call a few days ago. The patient and her mother were down at the beach, a few blocks away. No surgeon likes to hear that his delicately repaired patient has flown the coop just to get out in the sun, but he understands her. The strapping surgeon, 25 years older than Krone, scooped her into a shopping cart at a health-food store when she needed supplies.
Krone is a force of nature. She has duked it out with a male jockey after a dispute in a race, and she came back in 8 1/2 f months after breaking her left forearm in a collision at the Meadowlands in 1990.
She has become perhaps the biggest attraction in racing, becoming the first woman to win one of the Triple Crown races, on Colonial Affair in this year's Belmont. And she was the second-leading jockey at Saratoga with 36 victories, behind Mike Smith, who had 40.
On the last day at Saratoga, Krone was riding Seattle Way, when Filiberto Leon, a replacement jockey for Jose Santos, crossed into Krone's path. Krone bounced several times on the grass, and then Two Is Trouble ran over her.
Her broken ankle and a cut elbow and the cardiac contusion were all treated at the hospital in Saratoga before she was flown down to Staten Island for further surgery. Ariosta inserted two plates and 14 screws in the right ankle and says she will feel arthritis when she gets older. Right now, she will settle.
"I don't want to sound corny," Krone said, "but it means so much to see all the familiar faces. The first time Mike Smith and Jose Santos came, I just started to cry. I get piles of mail from people who have seen me ride. I read every one. I'm reading Dennis Byrd's book, and what God meant to him. My agent, my friends, they brought me a good stinky horse brush. That's my aroma therapy."
She says she has no doubts she will ride again. She also will tell her fellow jocks that a 2-pound vest may have saved her life. But she shouldn't have to carry that crusade. Racing should get it done before she rides again. One jockey's life would be worth it.