02/24/2005 12:00AM

Gutierrez returns a week early


PORTLAND, Ore. - Defending riding champion Juan Gutierrez returns to action with two mounts on Saturday's card at Portland Meadows.

Gutierrez was shaken up in a spill here in December and stood to lose at least a week of riding while recovering from soreness. He decided to take that opportunity to have elective surgery on a troublesome knee, and he has spent the intervening weeks in rehabilitation. Gutierrez had been aiming to return in early March, but he made better-than-expected progress and will now launch his comeback a week early.

Gutierrez will ride Splashingmywayhome, trained by Roger Stevenson, in the fifth race, a 5 1/2-furlong test for 3-year-old maiden special weight fillies. He will then ride Andy Can Run, trained by Debbie Van Horne, in the seventh race, a five-furlong affair for older $3,200 claimers.

The rider figures to have a strong chance in both races, as Splashingmywayhome is coming off a narrow miss in her six-furlong debut against $10,000 maidens, while Andy Can Run will be seeking to repeat after defeating $3,200 runners in his most recent outing.

Though Gutierrez began the meeting two weeks late and lost more than two months to surgery, he may still have a chance to repeat as leading rider. He still ranks sixth in the rider standings with 25 wins from 104 mounts, and he trails leading rider Tim Neal by only 18 wins with 24 days remaining in the 80-day stand.