04/23/2003 11:00PM

Great Lakes stakes stress statebreds

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MUSKEGON, Mich. - Great Lakes Downs opens for its fifth season of racing on Saturday, a 118-day meet that runs through through Oct. 28. The five-eighth-mile oval is owned by Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment Corporation.

The stakes schedule is unchanged from last year and is highlighted by the Michigan Sire Stakes on Oct. 11. The six stakes are for the progeny of Michigan sires, and each race is worth in excess of $120,000.

The Regret Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies on May 23, is the first of 20 stakes for statebred runners.

Last year's leading rider, Terry Houghton, has been sidelined since Aug. 25, when he suffered a concussion. His agent, Frank Garoufalis, said that Houghton is not expected to return to riding until this fall. Houghton was second in the nation in victories when he was injured.

Freddie Mata and Mary Doser, second and third in last year's standings, will return for this year's meet. Joe Judice, currently atop the Tampa Bay Downs standings, will be in to ride after that meet ends in early May.

Richard Rettele, last year's top trainer with 65 wins, has returned and has a full barn, including his top runners, Circle the Globe and Native Ruck. Gerald Bennett, the leader among trainers in earnings at the Great Lakes meet last year, will be back with Secret Romeo, last year's Michigan horse of the year.

* Michigan has a new racing commissioner, R. Robert Geake. A former state senator whose district included Detroit Race Course and harness track Northville Downs, Geake brings 26 years of legislative experience to the job.

Geake is supportive of alternative gaming to aid the state's racing industry, said Dominic Perrone of the state racing commissioner's office. Geake maintains a 10-acre farm in Northville Township, where he raises Arabian horses.

* Pat Sefa, widow of Farid Sefa, Michigan's most prominent owner and breeder, who died last week of pancreatic cancer, said that she had no plans to change the operation of the stable. A memorial service for Farid Sefa has been planned for 2 p.m. on May 4 at Waldenwoods Resort and Conference Center, located at 2975 Old U.S. 23 in Hartland, Mich.