03/06/2009 12:00AM

Meier returns from injury in fine style

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Randy Meier is the all-time leading jockey in terms of wins at Hawthorne Race Course, and his son Brandon, an apprentice jockey, surely finds much to emulate about his father. There is one path that the elder Meier has traveled, however, that 20-year-old Brandon would like to avoid - the amazingly long string of injuries that have cost Randy Meier a good portion of his career.

Brandon, in fact, came back on Friday at Hawthorne from his first injury since beginning his career last May at Arlington, a knee injury sustained on Dec. 13 at Turfway Park. And as for comebacks, the younger Meier's was close to as successful as possible: Riding Sapia Sika, he dead-heated for the win in the first race of Hawthorne's spring racing season.

Dad, of course, had to do slightly better: In race 3, he guided Jim's Trippin to the narrowest of wins after taking up his usual spot on the lead.

Brandon Meier won 58 races at Arlington last summer, forming a dynamic bug-rider duo with Inez Karlsson. But things went less well once Meier left the friendly confines of Chicago. At Santa Anita in the fall, Meier got few mounts and won with even fewer, scoring just two victories before heading to Kentucky in October.

"It was disappointing," Meier acknowledged after his win in the opener.

Business also was slow at first in Kentucky, where Meier rode one winner at Keeneland and went only 5 for 130 at the Churchill meet. But at Churchill he got chances with stronger outfits, which put Meier in a good spot for the Turfway meet in December. Meier had a meet-leading 12 victories in mid-December when a 2-year-old acted up in the post parade. Meier's leg got caught in the stirrup, and he didn't get on another horse until Feb. 17.

Those three months, however, are likely to be added onto Meier's apprentice period, which is scheduled to expire May 23. That would get Meier well into the Arlington season still riding with a weight allowance - and probably back to the winner's circle much more frequently.

Top 3-year-olds slowly revving up

Two of the more promising Illinois-bred 3-year-olds of 2009, Devil's Halo and Ava Mae, are just now getting down to the business of preparing for their seasonal debuts.

Ava Mae showed talent from her debut early last fall, but didn't win her maiden until she captured the Pat Whitworth Debutante in December. Ava Mae got a winter break, and is a ways from having her first breeze, trainer Michelle Boyce said Wednesday morning. There's no hurry, because Boyce believes Ava Mae's future lies on turf, and at the earliest, turf racing returns to Chicago in mid-April.

Devil's Halo might have been favored to win the Jim Edgar Futurity off sharp wins earlier last fall meet, but he suffered a tendon injury a couple of weeks before that race. The problem was caught before any damage was done, trainer Richard Hazelton said Wednesday morning as Devil's Halo prepared to go out for a routine gallop. Devil's Halo is not that far away from a work, and Hazelton said the horse could make it back to the races before the end of the Hawthorne meet.