05/28/2002 11:00PM

Houghton poised to ride 3,000th winner


MUSKEGON, Mich. - Leading Michigan rider Terry Houghton is looking to join the 3,000-win club, of which there are about 100 members. Through Tuesday, he had ridden the winners of 2,991 races, including 45 from 149 mounts in the first 18 days of the Great Lakes Downs meeting.

Houghton has 120 wins this year after a winter campaign at Tampa Bay Downs, where he was on top of the standings when he left for Michigan. His mounts this year have earned more than $1.1 million, for a career total of more than $24 million.

Last week was memorable for Houghton, a 32-year-old who was born in Denver but grew up in Hazel Park, Mich. He rode the winners of stakes races Friday and Saturday, and won six times on Sunday and five times on Saturday.

"I think that was my ninth or 10th time to win six on a card. In 1998 I won seven one day at DRC," Houghton said, referring to the now-closed Detroit Race Course.

On Friday, Houghton won the $45,000 Larkspur Handicap on Sefa's Rose. He followed that Saturday with a win in the Wolverine Stakes aboard past Great Lakes Downs champion Secret Romeo. "Secret Romeo is probably the best horse I've ever ridden, as the regular rider," Houghton said.

Houghton grew up in a racing family. His father, Ronnie, several uncles, and a cousin were all riders. While on the wrestling team at Hazel Park High School, he started riding races in Detroit.

Houghton and his wife, Rikki, live in Livonia, Mich., with their daughters, Ashley and Alyssa.

"We're looking at buying in Kentucky; thinking about breaking into the Kentucky circuit at some point," Houghton said.

* Jockey Denise Bush-Bennett was a little slow in her comeback, but she broke through this week, winning three races, including two on Tuesday. A Maryland native, Bush-Bennett, 35, had not ridden since 1999, when she took time off for her family. After a slew of seconds at this meet, she won Friday on Cartoon ($15.80) and then with a pair of Richard Czerwonka-trained shippers Tuesday, Bush's King ($63.20) and Fanny May ($65.60).