12/10/2007 12:00AM

Block enjoys 1-2 finish in Debutante

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - So, maybe it's not quite the same as winning the Kentucky Derby, but sweeping the exacta in a stakes race has got to feel good for a trainer, even if it happens on a dark December afternoon in an Illinois-bred race at Hawthorne.

Such was the case Saturday at Hawthorne, where Chris Block-trained, Virginia Tarra Trust-owned 2-year-old fillies ran one-two in the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes. But winner Link to My Heart and runner-up Apple Martini have more in common than just their human connections: the pair raced together at the back of the pack early in Saturday's race and both proved better suited to handle the Debutante's two-turn route configuration than any of their rivals.

"The bottom line is there was a question of who could make the route of ground, and two of mine I knew could do it," Block said. "It just was a question of whether they could do it on dirt."

Link to My Heart already had won a maiden race at the Hawthorne meet, but both she and Apple Martini had never started on dirt. And while Link to My Heart will be on a winter break now, Apple Martini still has an option at the ongoing Hawthorne meet, since she remains a maiden.

"I'd say we'd probably wait till next year, but there's not a final decision on that," Block said. "My concern is early on at the spring [Hawthorne] meet, you'd have a hard time finding a two-turn race for her."

Thornton back in the saddle

Leading rider Tim Thornton finally returned to the saddle Saturday and came out of the weekend holding a seven-win lead over Chris Emigh in the jockey standings. Thornton hadn't raced since Nov. 30, when he was mildly injured in a spill leaving the starting gate. Thornton had been named on horses last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but was unable to take those calls because of lingering soreness in his ribs.

Thornton was not named to ride any horses Wednesday, but that had nothing to do with his being unable to honor calls, Thornton's agent Jimmy Ernesto said.

"That's just by chance," Ernesto said. "I had two horses going in that day and neither of their races went."

While Thornton and Emigh have opened distance on the rest of the local riders, the race for leading Hawthorne trainer hardly could be tighter. Frank Kirby and Wayne Catalano both have 24 wins, Mike Reavis has 23, and Jamie Ness has 22 entering this week's card.

Wade continues to recovery from spill

Lyndie Wade, the apprentice rider who suffered a head injury and a broken jaw in a Nov. 30 spill, has continued making good progress in his recovery and could be moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center as early as Tuesday, his agent Jay Fedor said.

Wade needed surgery Friday to stitch a punctured lung that hadn't closed on its own, but came through that procedure well. Wade didn't regain consciousness for more than three days after his accident, but has made steady progress during the last week.

"Every day, his memory's coming back a lot," Fedor said. "He looks really good."