09/03/2003 12:00AM

Houghton working way toward return


MUSKEGON, Mich. - Jockey Terry Houghton, hospitalized a year ago with a serious concussion, is back in the saddle, at least in the mornings, at Great Lakes Downs. The veteran rider has been exercising mounts with an eye toward a return to competition in the near future.

"I'm just going to see how it's going, but I feel great," Houghton said Wednesday morning from his Hazel Park, Mich., home. "I'm playing it by ear right now.

"I got on eight one day," Houghton said. "I've worked six so far."

Houghton said he may return to riding at Tampa Bay Downs, which opens in December. "Gerry Bennett and some others are talking about the Sire Stakes, but I don't know. I'm not going to totally eliminate that."

The Michigan Sire Stakes, a series of six races on Oct. 11, is the highlight of the Great Lakes season.

Houghton's first tour around the track last week came aboard local horse of the year Secret Romeo, who is trained by Bennett. Houghton was his regular rider before the spill.

Houghton was second in races won nationwide a year ago when his mount clipped heels and he was thrown to the ground and hit by a trailing horse. He won the jockey title here even though there were two months left in the meet at the time of the accident.

* Great Lakes Downs has requested 2004 dates similar to the 118-day schedule this year, which opened on April 26 and will end on Oct. 28. Monday was the deadline for requests and dates should be allotted by Nov. 1.

* The track has dropped Sundays and has returned to racing four days a week. Post time on Friday and Saturday is 6:30 p.m. Central, and 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.