08/26/2003 11:00PM

Candy Ride's win hits home


DEL MAR, Calif. - As a writer, I was trained to avoid using the word "I" as much as humanly possible. This has been fairly easy, since what I think about Thoroughbred racing has not been nearly as important as what I have seen and heard. Besides, the "I" is never necessary when it comes to the reporting of fact, and in the end, I think writers who use the "I" to extremes tend to be tedious and self-indulgent. Who is this "I" guy, anyway?

Sometimes, however, events cut close to the bone. To deny the "I" ends up appearing dishonestly coy. But I protest too much. And I have just exhausted my yearly "I" allotment. I apologize.

You see, last Sunday my wife, Julie Krone, went to work and won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, the marquee race of the California summer. It took a few days to sink in.

She won it for Ron and Debbie McAnally, no less, and Sid and Jenny Craig, while filling in for the injured Gary Stevens. And while is it always an option to focus strictly upon a horse like the suddenly exciting Candy Ride, this time it is impossible. I surrender.

When my son Ed was born early on the morning of Oct. 2, 1982, the first person I called to tell the news - outside of the immediate family - was Ron McAnally. The trainer was already a regular subject of my writing (John Henry was the reigning Horse of the Year), and he had become a friend as well. I also knew McAnally was sure to be awake at 4 a.m. Trainers.

Jump nearly 21 years to the night before the 2003 Pacific Classic, and there is my son and his stepmom in our family room watching his digital videotape of Candy Ride's victory in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park with Stevens. She watched it four or five times, then she described how Candy Ride would get her to the quarter pole at the throat of Medaglia d'Oro, and then how the best horse would win from there.

It is never quite that simple, but it happened exactly as she described. When it was over, she sought out Gary Stevens in the winner's circle for a victory embrace. She knew exactly how he felt, being forced to digest the bitter pill of your horse winning a million-dollar race for somebody else. It is part of the price a jockey must pay.

It happened to Julie Krone in the fall of 1990, when she had just teamed with Safely Kept for back-to-back stakes wins in Maryland and New Jersey. Then, one morning at Monmouth Park, she fractured her ankle in a freak accident. Two starts later, Safely Kept won the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

It happened in the worst way, 10 years ago this Saturday, when Julie Krone was nearly killed in a race at Saratoga. Her right ankle was shattered, seemingly beyond repair. Her left elbow was sliced open to the joint. Her heart was bruised from the impact of a horse's hoof. There is no telling how many good horses she lost in that transaction, for 1993 was the year she not only won the Belmont Stakes, but led the standings at the Belmont springtime meet as well.

Is it worth it, the sacrifice of health and body parts in pursuit of success, the thrill of the chase? Hall of Fame jockeys like Stevens and Krone will answer yes without blinking, and stick to their story until "yes" no longer makes sense. Both of them have "retired" before, and no one begrudged their decision. Both of them came back.

Watching from a box near the sixteenth pole last Sunday, I put my binoculars down when Candy Ride collared Medaglia d'Oro at the head of the stretch and took in the sweeping panorama, the packed grandstand apron, the fans cheering the sight of one very good horse beating another on a perfect summer day.

As Candy Ride hit the wire, and the celebration commenced, a hand reached out and lightly squeezed my shoulder. The hand belonged to John Stewart, who was watching his new friend Julie Krone with a combination of curiosity and awe.

Back in the early 1960's, when Stewart was busy being one-third of the Kingston Trio, Julie Krone was just learning how to climb on a horse. As the San Diego-born son of a Standardbred and show-horse trainer, Stewart also spent his share of time in the stalls, mostly at Pomona, where his father kept his stock.

Stewart went solo and wrote such songs as "Daydream Believer," "California Bloodlines," "July, You're a Woman," and "Gold." When so moved, he dipped into the trough of his horse-filled youth to write "Mother Country," "Back in Pomona," and his ode to Secretariat, "Let the Big Horse Run." He has just written a song inspired by the movie "Seabiscuit." He calls it "Tanforan."

On the night before the Pacific Classic, John Stewart called Julie Krone at home, gabbed for a while, and then signed off with a little four-line ditty, a mere suggestion of a chorus that went something like, "Candy Ride, Candy Ride/ Oh, Candy Ride/ Candy Ride, Candy Ride/ Gotta let him fly."

Now he can finish the rest of the song.