CHESTER - Of the jockeys based at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort, the one with the most career victories is Terry D. Houghton. "T.D.," as he is known in racing circles, has been a winner 4,823 times during the past 2 and a half decades. He's the second leading rider at Mountaineer in 2012, with 59 wins.
"When I was an apprentice, riding in Detroit, Michigan, there was a jockey who recorded his 1,000th win," said Houghton. "I thought, 'Wow. That's a lot. Man, it would be great if I could reach that number some day.'"
Now, the 42-year-old Houghton is closing in on 'a-thousand-times-five.' "It's neat. It really feels good," he said. "I feel lucky that I've been able to ride long enough to get as many wins as I have." Houghton has also achieved 7,997 career placings. His mounts have accumulated purse earnings of $45.63 million.
To reach such plateaus, a rider needs an almost inborn understanding of his craft. Houghton's family tree partially includes the following. His father, Ron, was a jockey. Houghton 's brothers, Gary, Walt and Mel, all rode races. And his uncle, Bob Gaffilione, and the latter's son, Steve, became jockeys as well.
Houghton was born on January 16, 1970, in Denver, Colorado. But he was still a toddler when his father moved the family to Hazel Park, Michigan, which was then the locale of one of two Detroit-area tracks. The other was Detroit Race Course (also known as "DRC")) in Livonia.
While completing his senior year at Hazel Park High School, Houghton began riding at DRC. It took him a handful of years to get established, but by the mid-1990's Houghton was the track's premier rider.
He won six races on DRC cards multiple times, and on one occasion registered seven wins. He topped the DRC jockey standings for five consecutive years; he won 22 DRC races in a single week; he won at least one race on 45 consecutive days.
Houghton's 317 wins at DRC in 1995 will forever remain the single-season record at the track. That's been assured because DRC shut down and was demolished following the 1998 racing season - ending a history that spanned nearly a half-century.
Attempts to retain Thoroughbred racing in the state were made at Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon, and after that at Pinnacle Racecourse in Huron Township, just south of Detroit Metro Airport. Houghton rode regularly and made major impacts at both tracks. But both are now also defunct.
Over the years, Houghton has set up shop in other places, including Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Florida, and Hawthorne Racecourse near Chicago. Mountaineer has been his primary base of operations since 2009.
His agent is Tim Freking, who years back handled Dana Whitney's book. "One of the things I like about Mountaineer is the long season - ten months," Houghton said. "I got tired of all the moving around, from Hawthorne, to Indiana Downs, to Michigan, and then back to Hawthorne. It's nice to be able to stay in one place."
While Houghton has never registered a graded triumph, his resume does include 160 career stakes scores. On October 18, 1997, at DRC, he won a trio of Michigan Sire events, each of which bore a $125,000 purse. On October 14, 2006, at Great Lakes Downs, he won three more Michigan Sire Stakes, each bearing a purse of $132,887.
Houghton has done well in open company, too. In 2002 at Sportsman's Park near Chicago, he booted Secret Romeo to a three-quarter-length win in the $100,000 Lost Code Stakes, with a powerful stretch drive in what essentially was a freezing mist.
That same year, Houghton booted Secret Romeo to a three-quarter-length score in the $85,000 Harvey Arneault Memorial Handicap at Mountaineer. In 2007, Houghton won the $100,000 Indian Maid Handicap at Hawthorne with Jennie R. And in 2011, he won Mountaineer's $75,000 Firecracker Stakes aboard Lunar Mist.
There have been physical setbacks. A spill at Great Lakes Downs in the latter portion of 2002 left Houghton with a traumatic brain injury, requiring a hiatus that included a year's worth of therapy.
And there have been - and continue to be - legal issues. In 2006, Houghton was one of seven jockeys banned from Tampa Bay Downs for alleged race fixing, a circumstance he refers to as "ridiculous."
Houghton contends the allegation is based on "irregular betting patterns" and nothing that actually occurred when he was riding a race. "I've never been charged with anything, I've never been indicted," he said.
Still, because of this, there are places that won't license him, Tampa Bay and the tracks in Kentucky among them. Houghton's two daughters, Ashley, 15, and Alyssa, 11, live in Florence near Turfway Park. "I wish they could see me ride there," he said. The situation continues to reside in the hands of attorneys.
Houghton stands five feet, six inches. He tacks 115 pounds. One of his goals is to gain a mount in the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby, to be run at Mountaineer on August 4. He has the talent. He has the proven record. Why not?