04/06/2002 1:00AM

Trainer Rice on pace to set record for wins


OLDSMAR, Fla. - If you asked Don Rice what it would mean to set a Tampa Bay Downs meet record for wins by a trainer he would probably shuffle his feet, kick at a rock, and mumble something humble and self-deprecating.

But the fact remains that sometime soon, barring fire, flood, or pestilence, Rice will break the meet mark of wins by a trainer, which is 40 and has stood for almost 20 years.

Through last Tuesday, Rice had won 38 races from 158 starts, leaving him two wins shy of tying the record set by Fred Warren at the 1982-83 meet. The meet ends May 5.

Although stables sometimes see their runners tail off at the end of a busy meet, the opposite is happening for the Rice barn. He has sent out five winners from his last 25 starters, which is close to his meet average of 25 percent. Many of his horses look sharp and fresh when they come to the paddock, and they run to their looks.

Rice's main client, Steve Richardson, has won 12 of 44 starts, which ranks him second in the owners' standings to Glen Hill Farm, which has won with an amazing 15 of 24 starts.

Rice and his wife, Maxine, own a number of horses themselves, so it is often the Rices who pay the bills.

With a 19-win edge over Lynne Scace, Rice is odds-on to pick up his sixth training title.

* Jockey T.D. Houghton, who holds a nine-win edge in the rider standings through last Tuesday, took off Saturday's program to ride Secret Romeo in the $500,000, Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap. Secret Romeo, recently voted top Michigan-bred of 2001, has won 14 of 23 starts, including the Super Stakes here at the Lost Code Handicap at Sportsman's Park in his last two starts.

* Jockeys Luis Gonzalez and Ricardo Feliciano have moved on to Thistledown, and Bobby Walker Jr. will be riding at Mountaineer Park after the meet. Juan Umana, who is third in the standings with 55 wins, will most likely ride here through mid-April, then move his tack to Delaware Park, according to his agent, Lisa Stannard.

* Although most of the trainers here will keep some horses here until near the end of the meeting, Tony Cataldi and Peter Wasiliuk Jr. will take their horses to Delaware Park, when that meeting opens April 27.