05/11/2004 11:00PM

Hicklin heating up at Prairie Meadows

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ALTOONA, Iowa - What a month it has been for trainer Judi Hicklin.

On April 9, Hicklin was married in Tampa, Fla., to Bobby Pate, an outrider at both Tampa Bay Downs and Arlington Park.

Saturday night the excitement for Hicklin came on the racetrack at Prairie Meadows. On a night when major storms rocked the central Iowa area, lightning struck three times for the Hicklin barn as she saddled the winners L. A. Fitz ($14.60) in the first race, Din's Got Game ($7.80) in the fifth, and Melody Ruth ($14.20) in the ninth-race finale. Her only other starter on the card, Waki Daybreak, finished second in the evening's second race after a wide trip.

Hicklin, 50, is a Des Moines native who started in the show-horse business and began training Thoroughbreds when Prairie Meadows opened in 1989. Hicklin, who has 26 horses here, said the only other time she won three races on one card came many years ago at the now defunct Ak-Sar-Ben Race Course.

"I thought all of the horses would run well, but like always you're just hoping to win one race," Hicklin said of Saturday's achievement. "We should have a good summer. We've got a lot of promising young horses, including a 2-year-old that I really like."

Hicklin was referring to an unnamed Eltish colt who worked here recently. She added that she has fewer Iowa-breds than in years past.

Hicklin races at Prairie Meadows during the summer and at Tampa Bay Downs during the winter while maintaining a residence in both spots. She also serves on the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board at both tracks. With such a busy schedule, Hicklin credits her crew, headed by longtime assistant Rafael Sanchez, with keeping the barn running smoothly.

Hicklin's four wins through the first 16 days of the meet put her in a tie for seventh in the trainer standings. That list is led by two names familiar to Prairie Meadows fans, Stanley Roberts and Dick Clark.

Roberts, who won the training title here in 2001 and 2002, has saddled 15 winners from 59 starters and leads Clark, who is Prairie's all-time leading trainer and the defending champion from 2003, by two wins. Kelly Von Hemel, who finished third behind Clark and Roberts last year, once again holds that spot, with 10 wins from 39 starters.

The riders here are in a much more interesting race, with four-time defending champion Terry Thompson holding a slim 23-22 advantage over veteran Ken Shino, who is going for his first Prairie Meadows crown. Just one win behind Shino are Tim Doocy and Glenn Corbett.

Corbett has won five straight titles during the mixed meeting here, while Doocy, a fixture in the Midwest for more than 20 years, is riding here for the first time.

Doocy is represented by agent Ken Washburn, who had handled Thompson's book for the past several years. Thompson, who has had at least 20 fewer mounts than the three riders chasing him - due in part to out-of-town stakes obligations - now has Larry Farmer booking his mounts.