12/06/2007 1:00AM

Thornton holds lead while on mend

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - The race for leading rider at the Hawthorne meet took a sharp turn in a different direction last Friday. Up to that point, Randy Meier and Tim Thornton had been running neck and neck on the lead, with Thornton holding a narrow edge, but Meier went down in a bad two-horse spill in Friday's third race, broke his arm, and is out of action until sometime next year. His run towards a riding title at age 53 is over.

Thornton hit the ground in a less serious accident in Friday's sixth race, fortunate to escape a bad stumble at the start with no major injuries. Thornton's agent, Jimmy Ernesto, had said over the weekend that Thornton had hoped to return as early as Wednesday, but with his ribs still sore from his fall he will miss more time.

Ernesto said Wednesday that Thornton, with 55 victories, definitely would not return before Friday's card, and was more likely to ride again at Hawthorne on Saturday.

"He wakes up sore, but it feels better throughout the day," Ernesto said.

Meanwhile, Chris Emigh - with 46 wins through Sunday - is creeping ever closer to the top. Thornton, seeking his first riding title, will have missed at least four and probably five days of opportunities when he finally returns, to say nothing of getting back in a rhythm after missing time.

"I'm watching a lot of horses that look like winners on the program," Ernesto said. "Every day gets Emigh closer."

Wade's progress continues

The news on injured jockey Lyndie Wade continued on a positive note Wednesday. Wade's agent, Jay Fedor, speaking by phone early Wednesday afternoon from the pediatric intensive care unit at Loyola Medical Center, where Wade has been housed since Friday, said Wade was sitting up in a chair, looking at the Hawthorne program, and asking for a large meal.

Wade was knocked out in the spill that injured Meier, and didn't regain consciousness until Tuesday. A 16-year-old apprentice, Wade was in a drug-induced coma on Saturday, but didn't regain consciousness until swelling on his brain subsided.

Wade has a broken jaw, but Fedor said doctors no longer were certain the injury would require surgery. Wade didn't speak until Tuesday night, and still is coming around from the trauma to his brain, but he has made steady progress in the last several days.

Meritocracy to start for Asmussen

Think of a link between Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, and the first thing that might come to mind is their one-two placement atop the trainer-earnings list: So far this year, Pletcher's horses have earned some $27.4 million in North American purses, with Asmussen second in the country with $22.3 million.

But in the sixth race on Friday at Hawthorne, the two mega-stables have another connection: Meritocracy will make his first start since Asmussen and owner Maggi Moss claimed him for $30,000 from Pletcher and the Peachtree Stable on Nov. 8 at Churchill.

Meritocracy will make his first start off the claim in an entry-level allowance race, and he looks like the horse to beat in a field of 10. Meritocracy, with Emigh named to ride, drew the rail, and appears to have sufficient speed to make the lead. The race from which he was claimed was a nonwinners-of-two with competition probably just about as strong as that which Meritocracy will face Friday.