08/10/2005 12:00AM

Thompson puts tough times behind him

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ALTOONA, Iowa - Terry Thompson is headed back toward the top of the rider standings at Prairie Meadows after overcoming two career-threatening injuries in less than a year.

Thompson, who turned 34 Monday, won four straight Thoroughbred meeting titles here from 2000-03. Last June, he was in the midst of a battle for his fifth straight crown and had just captured his first Grade 1 stakes, aboard Island Sand in the Acorn, when a horrific spill sent him to the sidelines.

Thompson suffered multiple fractures of his right femur, as well as a dislocated knee. He had surgery to insert a titanium rod, which runs from his right hip to the top of his knee. The rod was secured by nine bolt-like pins.

Four months of intensive rehabilitation followed. In December, four of the pins were removed, allowing Thompson the flexibility he needed in his knee to return to riding.

Thompson made his return on opening day of the Oaklawn Park meet in January. For the first three weeks he experienced a tightening sensation in his knee as if it were about to lock up. But soon he was back to full strength and he finished eighth in the Oaklawn rider standings.

"I was very happy with the meet at Oaklawn, and I've never started a meet as well as I did here," said Thompson, who won 12 races in the first seven programs of the Prairie Meadows Thoroughbred meeting and led the rider standings at the end of April.

Thompson's comeback came to an abrupt halt on May 1. He was taking an unraced 2-year-old to the track when the horse spooked and flipped over backward, pinning Thompson to the pavement.

"He never gave me any warning," said Thompson. "He didn't take a step back or anything, he just sky-leaped and flipped over on me."

Thompson broke his pelvis in five places. He spent the next 10 days in Des Moines's Mercy Hospital as various doctors and specialists debated whether he needed surgery. Ultimately, they decided not to operate because the risk of causing a bladder problem outweighed the potential benefits.

According to Thompson, when he returned to his Ankeny, Iowa, home, where he resides with his wife, Teri, and their four children, he left his bed for the following 3 1/2 weeks only to go to the bathroom.

Doctors told Thompson it would be six months before he could return to the saddle, but the rider had other ideas.

"I was determined not to let the injury get me down," he said. "I wasn't going to lay around and feel sorry for myself."

Thompson's rehabilitation progressed quickly, and he planned to ease back into riding gradually at the current mixed meet with his goal to be at full strength by Iowa Classic Night on Aug. 27.

Thompson changed his timetable when Tim Doocy, who has won the riding title at three straight meetings here, suffered a separated pelvis in a starting gate incident on July 21.

"I planned on coming back that Saturday [the 23rd] at Canterbury by riding in two 2-year-old stakes for Larry [Jones]," said Thompson "I was going to ease back into it and figured things would be slow at first, but Tim's injury moved things up."

Thompson picked up two mounts that had belonged to Doocy on July 22, and hasn't looked back since, winning with 12 of his 41 mounts to rank third in the standings through Tuesday despite missing the first two weeks of the meet.

"We're back at full strength now," said Thompson, referring to himself and veteran agent Kenny Washburn.

Thompson had a scary moment at the beginning of his comeback when Wildcat Bettie B., the 1-2 favorite in the Canterbury Lassie on July 23, bolted entering the turn and appeared headed to the outside fence.

"I thought here we go again," said Thompson "I didn't want to hit the ground because I figured my body was still pretty brittle at that point."

Fortunately, Thompson was able to use the skills that have served him so well over the years and pulled the filly up safely.