04/08/2006 12:00AM

Newcomer trainer makes winning move


OLDSMAR Fla. - When you learned the basics of training at the bullrings of the upper Midwest, where the jocks' room was the back of a two-horse trailer and the judges' stand was the flatbed of a pick-up truck, you learn, as Clint Eastwood said in the movie "Heartbreak Ridge, to "improvise and adapt."

When Hurricane Katrina hit Fair Grounds racetrack, trainer Merrill Scherer was forced to make some hard and quick decisions about where to ship his stable this winter. Scherer, who years ago was leading trainer at the Chicago-area tracks Sportsman's Park and Balmoral, improvised and adapted - applying for stalls at Tampa Bay Downs for the first time and bringing in 19 horses for the 2005-06 meet.

It looks like the 65-year-old Scherer made the right move. Through Friday, horses from the Scherer barn had won 14 of 56 starts. And recently he said he will be back in Oldsmar next season.

"The quality of horses was tougher than I had thought they would be, but the track's got such a good surface to train over that I'd like to come back next year," he said.

Scherer admits he wanted to do even better, but is pleased with his stable's success this meet.

"You always want to win more, but my horses have done pretty well, and I think that coming off the track here they're going to do great at Keeneland," he said.

One of the reasons for his optimism is the overall quality of his stable.

"Top to bottom I've got the best barn I've ever had," he said. "I used to have one or two good stake horses and the rest were $5,000 claimers. Now I've got quality top to bottom."

Two of the more promising runners in the Scherer barn are Fiery Dancer, an Atticus filly who led from start to finish to win an allowance race at Keeneland on Friday, and a Trippi filly named Stepperupper who won in eye-catching fashion under Alfredo Clemente on April 1. The mainstay of the outfit is Atticus Kristy, a sprint specialist who has won four races at the meet. Atticus Kristy set a track record for five furlongs on the turf on Feb. 21, when she covered the distance in a blistering 55.02 seconds.

Houghton rides three-bagger

T.D. Houghton may not have the time to catch Jose Lezcano in the jockeys' race but that doesn't mean he is any less competitive. Houghton rode three winners on Friday to bring his total to 58 for the meeting.

One of his winners Friday might have a future - Kinsman Stable's Dynamic Feature, a Rahy filly who was making her second start. She ran very professionally in leaving the maiden ranks in a 1 1/16-mile turf race.