12/15/2003 12:00AM

When good karma turns bad


"This isn't just a thousand-to-one shot. This is a professional blood sport, and it can happen to you. Then it can happen again."
- from the movie "Le Mans"

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Okay, let's see who's been paying attention.

If a thousand-pound racehorse traveling in a northbound direction at a speed of 35 miles per hour trips and falls, what is the air-speed velocity of the 100-pound jockey formerly attached to that racehorse, and who picks up her mount in the eighth?

Richard Migliore, one of Julie Krone's closest friends in the riding community, called from New York not long after witnessing the replay of last Friday's wreck at Hollywood Park, the one in which Krone and David Neusch went down hard near the half-mile pole. Not the other wreck, a few races later, which involved only Ryan Fogelsonger. It was that kind of day.

Migliore's immediate concern was for Krone's well-being. He has been there before, too many times to count. After being assured by Krone that all 10 toes and all 10 fingers had passed the wiggle test, Mig offered a critical evaluation of her performance.

"Your hang time was excellent," Migliore said. "Very impressive. But when it comes to sticking a landing, I've got you beat."

Krone would have laughed a lot harder if it hadn't hurt so much.

Such dark humor tends to prevail when the worst-case scenario is dodged. Psychological defense mechanisms snap into place. Twenty-four hours and a considerable amount of pain later, Krone was at home cheering the TVG telecast of Excess Summer's impressive victory in the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood, in which Gary Stevens took her place aboard the son of In Excess for trainer Jeff Mullins.

"Here's how I look at it," Krone said. "I got the mount on Excess Summer when Tyler Baze went down at Del Mar." She was referring to the horrendous five-horse pileup last Aug. 11. "I also picked up the mount on Candy Ride for the Pacific Classic when Gary Stevens was hurt at Arlington Park. So now Gary has picked up a stakes win on Excess Summer when I went down."

Her point, no doubt, was that all things turn in cycles, that life's many adventures seek a balance, and that karma comes in good and bad flavors, so it's best to get used to both.

Nevertheless, as the husband of this particular jockey and a close-range admirer of their profession for more than 30 years, I have come to a somewhat more jaded conclusion. The romance of the craft is a lovely smoke screen. Luck has nothing to do with it. Eventually, they all fall down.

This time, Neusch, Krone, and Fogelsonger got up again, although some more slowly than others, each with a variation on high-speed impact trauma. On that same afternoon, young Michael Baze suffered facial injures when he was thrown in a race at Aqueduct. Then, on Sunday, David Lopez went down hard in the stretch at Golden Gate Fields and sustained a concussion.

The one athlete who did not survive the Hollywood Park crack-up was the 4-year-old chestnut colt named Skidoo, a son of Senor Speedy out of the Woodman mare My Cherie. It was Skidoo's shattered right foreleg that triggered the Neusch-Krone incident, about three-eighths of a mile into the 7 1/2-furlong third race for $25,000 claimers. Krone, who rode the trailing Clover Situation, had nothing but praise for the survival instincts of her horse.

"He tried so hard to avoid the horse that fell," Krone said. "He jumped, but the other horse was staggering around, trying to get up. One foot was all he caught. He almost had him cleared."

Clover Situation escaped without severe damage. Skidoo, sadly, was injured beyond humane repair. He was mercifully euthanized shortly after an evaluation by Dr. Ray Baran, the official veterinarian.

Thus ended a life that began on the farm of his co-owner and breeder, John J. Greely III. His son, Beau Greely, trained Skidoo, who had started nine times before last Friday, finally tasting victory in his most recent start, on Nov. 19, for a maiden claiming tag of $50,000.

"That's never happened to me before, losing one on the track like that," said Greely, who began training in 1997. He was in Omaha on business last Friday and watched Skidoo's race at a simulcast facility.

"He never had any fractures," the trainer added. "About all he ever did was shinbuck, and I gave him plenty of time. He wasn't quite cut out to be a top horse, but he was a nice horse, and the way he won last time I thought he'd go on and win some more."

Now, his only real value will derive from the study of his shattered limb through the necropsy program conducted by the University of California-Davis.

"Le Mans" is a movie about car racing, which means it has very little to do with real-life horse racing - except for the occasional line that seems ripped right from the heart of the Thoroughbred sport. At one point, the widow of a driver killed in action poses the question, "If you're going to risk your life, shouldn't it be for something very important?" The answer, delivered with a whiff of lingering doubt, comes from another driver who survived the crash:

"Well, it better be."