01/29/2004 12:00AM

Houston Shuffle back home


PORTLAND, Ore. - Houston Shuffle returns to Portland Meadows on Saturday in a field of six in the $10,000 Flying Lark Stakes at six furlongs.

Houston Shuffle, a front-running son of Houston from the barn of trainer Jonathan Nance, won his first three starts over this track, including victories in the six-furlong OTBA Sales Stakes and the six- furlong Bill Wineberg. After faltering to finish a distant fourth in the one-mile Oregon Futurity in December, Houston Shuffle finished fifth at the $20,000 level and second for $8,000 at Golden Gate this month. Both races were at six furlongs.

By virtue of his stakes wins, Houston Shuffle will carry high weight of 122 pounds, including regular rider Juan Gutierrez, while his rivals get in under 117 pounds, according to the allowance conditions of the Flying Lark.

Houston Shuffle figures to get his sternest challenge from Mythical Road, a winner of 2 of 7 starts and who is coming off a solid second to the since deceased Tom Won in the Dec. 13 Oregon Futurity. Mythical Road has finished in the top three in his last six starts, a string that includes three stakes, and owner and trainer Richard Occhiuto expects another good showing on Saturday.

"My only concern is that he has been off so long," said Occhiuto. "Physically, he is fine, and his ace in the hole is that he is the most sensible young horse I have ever been around. He never beats himself."

Also dangerous are Freedom Fair and Might E Man, both of whom are coming off impressive scores over maiden special weight company.