07/29/2004 11:00PM

Grieving trainer gets a little lift

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Adam Kitchingman did not get far on the path leading to winner's circle after Top Money's win in Thursday's fifth race at Del Mar before he was stopped by friends and other trainers.

A few offered a handshake, others a hug to Kitchingman, whose eyes welled with tears.

The win came on a day when Kitchingman returned to Del Mar for the first time since the death of his wife, Vikki, from cancer on July 23. She was 34.

"I've got a lot of support from people at the track," said Kitchingman, who will turn 30 next week.

Vikki Kitchingman was involved in several aspects of racing. She was well known in the sales community as a longtime employee of Andy Havens bloodstock, and on the backstretch at Southern California tracks where she worked as an exercise rider. She owned a few runners in Adam's stable.

The return to the racetrack was difficult for Kitchingman, his friends said.

"I think it was hard for him to be here because this was such a part of his wife's life," said his assistant, Rachelle Enriquez. "When he was saddling, he said, 'This is the hardest place to be.' I said, 'This is where your wife would want you to be.' "

Vikki was stricken with cancer three years ago, about the time that Adam began forming the idea of launching his own stable. A native of Australia, Kitchingman previously worked for other trainers. While working for Jim Cassidy in 2002, Kitchingman traveled to Churchill Downs with Ocean Sound, who finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby.

Kitchingman launched his stable in early 2003, and had his first winner in March of that year.

The 14-horse barn had its first major success last September when Dixie High won the Barretts Debutante at Fairplex Park, a win Kitchingman dedicated to his wife.

"We kind of started this business together," he said.

A month later, Dixie High finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

On Thursday, Kitchingman wore a lapel pin commemorating the Susan Komen Foundation for breast cancer research, an organization that holds a popular 10-kilometer walk for women as a fundraiser.

Vikki's funeral was held on Tuesday in Mira Loma, Calif.

During her illness, Vikki received a retired racehorse named Crown of Thorns as a gift from owners Thomas and Marilyn Braly and Laura, Fred, and Norma Stone. The partners were looking for a home for the horse, and sent him to Vikki at the recommendation of Cathy Riccio, who briefly trained for the Bralys.

Vikki taught Crown of Thorns to be a hunter-jumper. The gelding also was a lead pony for the Havens team at the Barretts sales.

"She called my wife and I a few times and told us how well she was doing," Tom Braly said. "Sometimes when you find a horse a home you never hear from the people again. She was very grateful."

Today, Crown of Thorns is with Kitchingman as a racetrack pony.