12/05/2005 12:00AM

Houghton quietly posts good results

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Trainer Roy Houghton wears his cowboy hat pulled low. He has been known to bicycle on a rickety 10-speed from his barn to the Arlington racetrack to watch his horses train. Around friends, he can be voluble. Most of the time, however, Houghton's communications take the less-is-more approach.

For instance, Houghton was asked what he thought of his Hawthorne meet so far. "Well, it's been okay, I guess," he said.

Okay, indeed. When Snow Devil won the fourth race Sunday at Hawthorne, it gave Houghton his ninth winner from 40 starters, placing him 16th in the standings here. But Houghton has run fewer horses than the 15 trainers above him, and the nine wins at this meet alone are only three fewer than he accumulated in all of 2004.

"I got a few more horses than I usually carry is all that it is, I think," said Houghton.

Last year at this time, there were seven or eight in the Houghton barn. Now, the stable numbers 12, among them the talented Illinois-bred 2-year-old filly Unreal Rocket, who starts in the first race here on Wednesday. Had Unreal Rocket been made eligible for this Saturday's Pat Whitworth Debutante, that's where she would have shown up, since Houghton believes Unreal Rocket will eventually turn out to be a route horse. But Unreal Rocket was purchased privately this past spring, and nominating payments to the Debutante got lost in the shuffle, so she is instead entered in an open entry-level sprint allowance race with a $50,000 claiming option.

has so far faced only Illinois-breds, but she still may be favored Wednesday off a good third-place finish last out in the $92,000 Showtime Deb Stakes. In the six-furlong Showtime Deb, Unreal Rocket contested the early pace and took the lead coming off the far turn, but faded to fourth at the stretch call before running on for third. Rich Fantasy, the winner, had won her maiden by more than 20 lengths in her previous race.

"I thought she ran well there, but just got outrun," Houghton said of Unreal Rocket.

The sixth- and eighth-place finishers from the Showtime Deb, , also show up in Wednesday's first, along with the Wayne Catalano-trained Top Countess. Taylor Madison races on Lasix for the first time, and won her career debut Sept. 14 at Arlington in a race that included Unreal Rocket.