06/24/2003 11:00PM

Krone closer to comeback

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Julie Krone, the Hall of Fame rider who has not ridden since March because of a back injury, is preparing for a comeback.

Earlier this week, Krone received doctor's approval to resume exercising horses. She said on Tuesday that she plans to be at Santa Anita this week.

"He wants me to make double-sure that I'm ready," Krone said of her doctor. "I cannot stay away, but I haven't been cleared to ride."

Racing's leading female rider, Krone, 39, is hoping to gain full approval in a few weeks to resume riding. She is likely to be riding by the end of the current Hollywood Park meeting in anticipation of being ready for the start of the Del Mar meeting on July 23.

Krone has not ridden since March 8, when she injured her lower back after being unseated shortly after the start of a turf sprint at Santa Anita. Krone suffered two broken bones in her lower back and two compression fractures of vertebrae. The injuries did not require surgery.

The injury came five months into a comeback following her retirement in April 1999.

At the time of the injury, Krone was fifth in the Santa Anita standings with 33 winners. She eventually finished 10th.

This summer will be the first time that Krone will ride at Del Mar on a full-time basis. Over the last two summers, she has worked as an exercise rider for trainer Richard Mandella.

"I feel so at home there after galloping for Mandella for two summers," she said.