06/17/2003 11:00PM

Matz back at Thistledown and better than ever

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Jockey Nena Matz has displayed vast improvement since she last rode at Thistledown, during the 2000 season.

The last two seasons she has ridden at Sunland Park, where she met and married Zachary Armstrong, a trainer who has 20 head at Thistledown.

Entering Thursday's card, she has ridden 72 horses here and has a record of 8-6-4. Last week she rode three winners in two days - and all three were on longshots. On Thursday she had a riding double when she won with her husband's Bold Patches ($27.60) in the sixth race and won the last race with Trickster Trio ($31.20) for trainer Jim Tracy. On Friday she again teamed up with her husband and won the fifth race with Grandpa Hillis ($23).

Born in Abington, Pa., Matz recalls getting on horses when she was 2 or 3 years old. Her dad, Bob, was a saddle-horse trainer, and she grew up learning how to take care of horses. In 1990 at Waterford Park (now Mountaineer), Matz rode her first winner.

* Leading rider Luis Gonzalez booted home six more winners last week and raised his total to 42, 10 more than his closest rival, Julio Felix, who rode three winners on the weekend.

* The race for leading trainer honors is much closer. Rodney Faulkner has a one winner edge, 18-17, over Jeff Radosevich, who is one in front of Gary Johnson.