05/05/2002 11:00PM

Fund-raising trek halfway to N.Y.

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Les Nichols, the Texas trainer who is riding on horseback to New York to raise funds for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, estimates he has covered 1,200 miles so far, and expects to arrive at Ground Zero the week of July 4.

Nichols has passed the halfway point of his 2,000 mile trek, which started in October. He had expected to be in New York as early as February, but personal appearances, injuries to his horses, and some rugged terrain has slowed his travels.

"This last leg has been hairy," said Nichols. "From big hills to blind turns and thin roads, we've had to slow our way through it. I'm fine, but when it gets too much and I get stressed out, I take a day or two off."

Nichols was in Olive Hill, Ky., on Sunday night, and expected to cross into Ohio on Monday or Tuesday. From there he will travel to Pennsylvania, then New York.

Nichols started his journey near San Antonio, and has traveled through Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Fire departments around the country are selling raffle tickets for a western saddle featuring the Twin Towers, and proceeds are to help families of victims. Information can be found at www.americanposse.org, a website that tracks Nichols.

Nichols plans to race one of the horses making the journey with him, J.J.'s Cowboy, when he gets to New York.

"He's three weeks away from a work," said the trainer.