03/05/2008 12:00AM

Wade back in the saddle

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The story involving Lyndie Wade probably was no more than a couple inches away from ending in tragedy, but for now, the tale has taken a happy turn.

Wade, an apprentice jockey, came to Chicago from Louisiana last fall, and was having a strong Hawthorne meet when in the near-darkness on Nov. 30 his mount broke down at the top of the Hawthorne stretch, sending Wade careening to the cold, hard ground. Wade, who was only 16 at the time, lost consciousness, and remained in an induced coma for three days.

When last seen in Chicago, he was back on his feet, smiling, and on the road to recovery, but still facing a long period of rehabilitation. Questions lingered about whether he might be able to ride again and whether he would ever fully get his mind back.

That all has changed. Reached on Tuesday in Hot Springs, Ark., Wade's agent, Jay Fedor, had nothing but good news. Wade, in fact, had been playing racquetball moments before with Fedor and the other rider he represents, Chris Emigh. Wade has been working horses at Oaklawn Park, and will resume his riding career early next month at Hawthorne, Fedor said.

"He's been getting on horses every day," Fedor said.

Wade, who turned 17 on Jan. 4, had thought in late December that he was headed for a long period of rehabilitation at a clinic in Maryland. But Fedor said that - as a Chicago neurologist had predicted days before - Wade suddenly snapped out of his post-head-trauma haze just before departing for rehab.

"In Maryland, they gave him a battery of tests, and the guy told him to go home and have a nice life," Fedor said. "The speech therapist told him the same thing."

Fedor said Wade still "doesn't remember everything all the time," but he is apparently just about back to his old self. Now, it is just a question of regaining his timing and fitness before returning to race-riding.

Meier mended, ready for opener

The guy who fell over Wade's stricken horse, Randy Meier, has made an unfortunate habit of getting involved in spills, but Meier has recovered from the broken arm he suffered in that accident and is ready for Friday's opening day card.

"I started getting on horses almost two weeks ago," Meier said. "Got on six the first day, seven the next day. I've had no issues, no problems. It healed up pretty good."

Meier said that even at age 53 he hadn't experienced hardship getting back into racing shape after his downtime.

"It wasn't too bad getting back," he said. "I'd been doing a lot of snowshoeing and stuff to stay in shape."

Meier was locked in a battle for leading rider with Tim Thornton when he went down. Thornton also had two injury-related absences last meet, but still held on to capture his first riding title, beating Chris Emigh by three winners. Emigh, along with Eddie Razo, Larry Sterling, and Israel Ocampo, are riding at Oaklawn until April, which may pave the way for another Meier- Thornton battle this meet.

Thornton said he rode for a few days at Sunland Park during the winter dark period, and he has been working a slew of horses in Chicago for a couple weeks in advance of the meet.

"I know things can change up," Thornton said. "I want to keep working hard and doing the same things I've been doing."

Kirby prepares his turf stars for spring

Hawthorne in the winter is not exactly a hotbed of turf stakes horses, though one could get a little confused about that looking into the Hawthorne barn of trainer Frank Kirby.

There resides not one, but two graded stakes-class grass horses, including Cloudy's Knight, who won the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine to cap a sterling 2007 season. Cloudy's Knight has yet to post a timed workout in 2008, but is training at Hawthorne and should be ready to start by late spring. Ciao, who finished a close second to Bit of Whimsy in the Gradeo2 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill in her final start last year, shows one work at Hawthorne and is slated to make her seasonal debut on April 12 in the Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland.

Cloudy's Knight, Kirby said, has been nominated to the Grade 1 Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, but is iffy to be ready in time to make that race. The focus of his season will unsurprisingly be races later in the summer and fall at Woodbine, where Cloudy's Knight performed spectacularly last year, winning the Sky Classic in addition to the International, and finishing second in the Nijinsky.

"That big turf course up there, he just loves it," Kirby said.

And big is good for 8-year-old Cloudy's Knight, who is among the biggest, heaviest horses in Chicago.

Track conditions lead to fast workout times

Hawthorne handicappers will not take long to notice exceptionally fast workouts scattered throughout the past performances of horses that have been training here throughout the winter. The track here tends to get fast when frozen, and it has been frozen much of the winter, but other factors have gone into the fast times.

The main thing is that every time it snows, Hawthorne must blade the snow off the track surface, a process that invariably leads to some of the track surface itself coming up. In fact, a mini-mountain of the material can be seen in the parking lot just beyond the half-mile pole. In any case, the regular scraping leaves minimal surface cushion on the track at times, which in turn leads to the fast works seen during the local dark period.