01/29/2005 12:00AM

Trainers' race crowded at top

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - With 33 programs of the 94-day Tampa Bay Downs meeting in the books, the battle for leading trainer looks like a barn burner, with four stables deadlocked at the top with 10 victories each.

Don Rice, whom many had written off after a poor showing last season, is back and winning races again. Rice has been leading trainer here a record seven times, and this year he showed he isn't too set in his ways to change some training patterns in order to win. In past seasons, the Rice horses usually came into this meeting needing at least one or two races before they were ready, but when Twisted Cord returned from a six-month layoff to win Dec. 28, it turned a lot of heads. Led by Dry Ice, who has won three of four starts this season, the Rice runners have won 10 of 61 starts. The average payoff for a Rice winner is $22.30, and not one horse from the stable has gone to the post as the betting favorite.

Kirk Ziadie has also put in a strong showing in his second full season here. Ziadie, who ended the 2004 season with a dazzling 32 percent win rate, has won at a 59-percent clip this meet. From maidens to stake horses, his runners are always in the hunt, and although you won't break the bank betting at an average win mutuel of $5.40, you will cash a lot of tickets.

Lynne Scace, last year's leading trainer, has quietly moved into a tie for the top spot. Her barn consists of a good mix of older runners and promising youngsters.

Greg Griffith is off to his best start ever, having saddled 10 winners from just 34 starters. Griffith has sent out Dirtymoposse to win two turf sprints in impressive fashion, including a three-quarter-length win last out Jan. 18.

Houghton suspended five days

Jockey Terry Houghton rode three winners last Wednesday but had to begin a five-day suspension for careless riding Thursday and won't be back in action until Feb. 1. Houghton was named to ride in six races Thursday, but was taken off all of his mounts shortly before he was scheduled to ride his first horse after track officials were notified that the Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering decided to deny Houghton's appeal of the suspension.

Houghton had 36 wins when his suspension started, three fewer than leading rider Jesus Castanon.

Jellison moving up all-time list

Jockey Jill Jellison is very quietly closing in on a milestone. Jellison, who has five wins at the current stand, has 1,767 career victories, and trails Vicki Aragon-Baze by only two wins for third place on the all-time win list for female riders. Julie Krone and Patti Cooksey rank first and second, as the winningest female riders.