01/11/2017 4:40PM

Houghton has high hopes for Crabcakes

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Crabcakes, trained by Bernie Houghton, wins the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship.

Penn National-based trainer Bernie Houghton’s promising 3-year-old filly Crabcakes improved her record to 3 for 3 last Saturday at Laurel Park, drawing off to a more than six-length victory in an optional-claiming race. Houghton is now debating between two upcoming stakes for Crabcakes and has hopes she may be good enough to earn a start in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico in May.

“I’ve had some nice statebreds, but I have to say she’s the nicest young filly I’ve had,” Houghton said. “When you start talking about races like the Black-Eyed Susan, they’d better be pretty nice.”

Crabcakes – a great name for a Maryland-bred – is a Houghton family project. She is owned and was bred by Houghton’s aunt Elizabeth “Binnie” Houghton, longtime owner of Buckingham Farm in Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Elizabeth Houghton and her late husband, Eddie Houghton, bred and raced Crabcake’s dam, Aunt Elaine, who earned more than $90,000 while trained by the late Dickie Small.

As a yearling, Crabcakes was sent to the 300-acre Sylmar Farm in Pennsylvania, which is operated by Bernie Houghton’s parents, Ron and Betsy. Sylmar Farm, about 50 miles from Penn National, is best known as where Princess of Sylmar, a four-time Grade 1 stakes winner of more than $2 million, started out for owner Ed Stanco’s King of Prussia Stable.

While at Sylmar, Crabcakes was broken and given her early training lessons by Bernie Houghton’s wife, Shannon.

“My wife told me the filly was nice, then once I got her up to Penn National, I realized she could really run,” Houghton said.

Crabcakes was scheduled to begin her racing career at Laurel on Nov. 20, but that was pushed back when the card was canceled due to inclement winter weather. Houghton wanted to get a race into the daughter of Great Notion before the Dec. 10 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, a $100,000 race for statebreds, so he went to Plan B and ran her in a Dec. 3 maiden race at Penn National. She won that race by five easy lengths and then returned to win the Filly Championship by 1 1/4 lengths.

“I ran her here at Penn National, more as a workout than anything,” Houghton said.

Returning on four weeks’ rest last Saturday, Crabcakes came from just off the pace to win with authority at 2-5 odds. Jockey Angel Rodriguez has been aboard for each of her races.

“There was a lot of pressure on me the other day, but she pulled through,” Houghton said.

Houghton is now eyeing one of two $75,000 stakes at Laurel for Crabcakes. The Marshua is at six furlongs on Jan. 21, the Wide Country is a seven-furlong race Feb. 18.

“We like to run her in Maryland because that’s where my aunt’s farm is,” Houghton said. “The seven furlongs is good for her because I think she’s going to be better going two turns. She relaxes very nice for you.”

Houghton, 53, has a stable of about 40 horses at Penn National. He was third in the track’s trainer standings in 2016 with 51 wins.

Houghton trained from 1988 to 1993 before making a career change.

“My father and Barclay Tagg were roommates together at college,” Houghton said. “I worked as an assistant for Barclay and then I trained for a while. I took a job in the racing office after that because I thought it would be better, with the benefits and everything. I was the identifier in Maryland for about seven or eight years.”

Houghton reopened his stable in 2005 at the request of his father.

“My father was getting older and he told me he needed someone to train the horses, so I switched back,” Houghton said. “I started out with about 10 horses.”

Houghton said he enjoys training at Penn National.

“It’s cheaper horses but it’s a good place to train,” Houghton said. “It’s a nice area, it’s kind of country, and it has a beautiful surface. They take real good care of it.”