11/19/2003 12:00AM

Houston Shuffle peaking, points to Futurity


PORTLAND, Ore. - Houston Shuffle stayed undefeated and extended his winning streak to three in last Saturday's $16,740 Bill Wineberg Stakes for Oregon-bred 2-year-olds.

Under leading rider Juan Gutierrez, who rode with a neck injury incurred in a gate mishap earlier in the day, Houston Shuffle assumed a short lead at the start and held steady to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over the fast-finishing Tom Won in 1:13.16 for six furlongs.

"I told Juan that he should ride with confidence because the horse had been training better than he has ever trained in his life," said Jonathan Nance, co-owner and trainer. "Juan did his job, and so did the horse. He has done everything we've asked of him so far."

Before Houston Shuffle turns 3 on Jan. 1, Nance will ask one more thing of him - that he stretch his speed to a mile in the $28,345-added Oregon Futurity on Dec. 13. A fourth straight victory would earn Houston Shuffle not just the winner's share of the Futurity purse, but a $25,000 bonus from the Oregon Thoroughbred Breeders' Association for completing a double that began with his win in the OTBA Sales Stakes on Nov. 1.

The race won't be easy.

"Tom Won will be tough to beat in the Futurity," Nance said. "He was rolling hard at the end in this race, and we've got to hold him off for another quarter-mile. I think our best hope is that he'll get an easier lead going a mile, and he'll be able to save enough to hang on."

Nance, who is leery of running Houston Shuffle in five races at two-week intervals, will train Houston Shuffle into the Futurity, while trainer Delmer Webb plans to prep Tom Won in the six-furlong Columbia River Stakes on Nov. 29.

"I think he could use another race before the Futurity," said Webb. "He is learning more every time he runs."

Webb was happy with Saturday's effort from Tom Won, a growthy half-brother to multiple stakes winners Cyamaria and Yesss. But he feels Tom Won, a Cahill Road gelding, has yet to show his best stuff.

"He is a big horse with a long stride, and I think he'll do better around two turns," he said. "I also felt he wasn't quite as sharp for this race as he might have been, and it didn't help that he had to break from the far outside. He has room for improvement."

The forgotten horse from the Bill Wineberg, judging from the post-race comments, is Mythical Road. Trained by Richard Occhiuto, Mythical Road, making his first start in nearly two months, was beaten just a nose for second. Mythical Road, who will also be pointed toward the Oregon Futurity, has already won at a mile, having beaten $12,500 maidens at the distance at Emerald Downs in August.

Emerald gets Playfair purse money

The Emerald Downs purse account for 2004 got a boost at a meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission last week when the commission voted to deposit $384,000 in non-distributed purse funds from Playfair into the Emerald account. That money was accumulated through simulcasts conducted by Lilac City Racing in 2000 and Cleopatra Downs LLC in 2002. Since neither operator conducted subsequent live racing at Playfair, the purse money could not be distributed there.

The additional purse money is not expected to result in a purse increase at Emerald but will make up for a shortfall in the track's purse account and prevent a purse cut.

Another $94,000 in Washington-bred owners' bonuses amassed at Playfair will be held by the commission until the end of the 2004 Emerald meet. It will then be distributed to the owners of Washington-bred money winners at that stand.

An additional $62,000 in Washington-bred breeders' bonuses from Playfair has already been distributed by the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, which administers that fund.

Account wagering may be legalized

Also at last week's commission meeting, Emerald president Ron Crockett advised the commission that he intends to seek legislation to legalize Internet and telephone account wagering at Washington's next legislative session, which begins in January.

Under current Washington law, account wagering is not legal for Washington residents betting on out-of-state races or for anyone betting on Emerald Downs races. Both practices are believed to be widespread, however, and neither the track nor its purse account derives any benefit from that wagering.

* Former rider Jim Prouty died last week in Hillsboro, Ore., at the age of 67. Prouty led the rider standings at Portland Meadows from 1964 through 1966 and tied with Dan Castle for the lead in 1967.

* WHRC commissioner Dr. Robert Mead died Saturday at 67. Dr. Mead, the former chief veterinarian for the state of Washington, was appointed to the commission earlier this year.

* Kathleen McKee won last weekend's handicapping contest at Portland Meadows in a runaway, accumulating 24,620 points to 16,800 for runner-up Gary Butcher. McKee earned a $4,999 first prize and the last slot on the track's four-person team in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, which will be held in January in Las Vegas.