05/06/2003 11:00PM

Thompson gets over it

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ALTOONA, Iowa - Jockey Terry Thompson remained upbeat this week despite being denied the opportunity to ride in the Kentucky Derby for the first time when his mount, Sir Cherokee, was scratched after suffering a fracture in his right hind ankle three days before the race.

"If it had to happen, I'm glad it happened this way," said Thompson about the discovery of the injury following Sir Cherokee's gallop the Thursday before the Derby. "He should make a full recovery. Who knows if they hadn't found it when they did? He may have broken down during the race."

Thompson, who is going for his fourth straight Prairie Meadows riding title, was already at Churchill Downs when the scratch occurred, and since he was not scheduled to ride here on Friday or Saturday he stuck around for the Derby and made the most of a bad situation.

"It was great. I had a blast," he said.

* Prairie has struggled at the entry box since the meet started April 18. In an effort to improve the situation the track sent its assistant racing secretary, Dan Doocy, to Indiana Downs to try to recruit horsemen. That track's inaugural meeting ends on May 26.

* Purses were raised across the board here last weekend. All claiming races were increased by $500, maiden special weight races by $1,000, and allowance races by $1,500. Purses are set at $15 million for the year here by contract, and the increases were made in order to avoid an underpayment created by many higher-level races not filling, including a $50,000 stakes race on opening weekend.

* Trainer Larry Donlin had a heart attack last week and was hospitalized for several days. Donlin had recovered sufficiently to make an appearance in the winner's circle after his trainee Got Mercedes captured Sunday evening's second race.

* Veteran jockey Perry Compton is just one win short of 3,000 for his career entering Friday night's action.