02/27/2003 12:00AM

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Jimmy "Cowboy" Nichols, who won 2,446 races as a standout jockey riding primarily in Kentucky and the Midwest, died Thursday at age 74 in Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, Tex., after suffering for years from kidney failure. Nichols, who won back-to-back runnings of the New Orleans Handicap (1962-63) at Fair Grounds, where he is enshrined in the track's hall of fame, is survived by his wife of 55 years, Veronica. . . . Norberto Arroyo Jr., released from prison on Feb. 13 after serving 39 days for second-degree assault in a pool-hall fight last June, rode his first horse since Dec. 29 on Wednesday at Aqueduct. In Thursday's first race, he won his first race since Dec. 21, aboard 11-1 Royal Ruby. . . . Poor weather conditions forced Charles Town to cancel its live racing programs on both Wednesday and Thursday night, and Turfway Park called off its live card following the first race on Thursday because warming temperatures and melting snow left the track unsuitable for racing.