11/01/2002 1:00AM

Krone returns with close fourth

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone ended her 3 1/2-year retirement with a fourth-place finish in the fifth race Friday at Santa Anita.

Riding in a competitive race for the first time since April 1999, Krone rode first-time starter Justly Royal in a maiden race on the hillside turf course.

Justly Royal was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Silky Summer ($27.20), but may have finished closer with a better stretch run. At the back of the field early, Justly Royal made up ground through the final quarter-mile but was in tight quarters in the final 50 yards.

"I'm definitely happy to be back," Krone said. "I got shaved a little bit leaving there, and Corey Nakatani said, 'Welcome back.' As we got in the stretch, it got a little crowded."

Nakatani rode Golden Penny, who broke alongside Justly Royal.

Krone, who was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 2000, announced in mid-October that she would return to riding at the Hollywood Park fall meeting which begins on Wednesday. The date was moved up when opportunities became available.

The world's leading female rider, Krone has won 3,545 races. Her comeback on Friday was greeted warmly in the paddock by well-wishers surrounding the rail.

During the last two summers, Krone, 39, has worked as an exercise rider for trainer Richard Mandella during the Del Mar meeting. This fall, she worked as an exercise rider for Laura de Seroux. Mandella trains Justly Royal.

Krone is booked on three rides in Saturday's California Cup program. She has two mounts on Sunday, including Noches de Rosa for Mandella in the $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap and Summerwood for trainer Eduardo Inda in a $45,000 allowance race for sprinters. During the summer, Krone was the regular exercise rider for Noches de Rosa.