03/07/2005 1:00AM

Always Noble one hot horse


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Always Noble tries to become the first three-time winner of the Oaklawn Park meet in Wednesday's ninth race. The 1 1/16-mile allowance carries an optional claiming price of $62,500 and drew a well-matched field of nine. The purse is $36,000.

has been in the zone since being claimed for $40,000 on Nov. 2. He has won 3 of his 4 subsequent starts and has compiled a 2-for-3 record at Oaklawn.

Always Noble won a $12,500 starter race over six furlongs here Feb. 6, then came back to register a 4 1/4-length win under regular rider Jeremy Rose in a two-other-than allowance at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18, his most recent race.

"He ran very well last time out," said trainer Tim Ritchey. "He finished extremely well. Jeremy said he had a lot of horse; when he asked him, he just drew away. Every race he's gotten better and better."

In his first Oaklawn start, a 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance Jan. 28, Always Noble finished second by three lengths to Clays Awesome, a multiple allowance winner who is among the nominees to the Grade 3, $125,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn on Sunday.

"The first time he ran here, he probably just needed that race over the racetrack," said Ritchey. "His last two have been exceptional races, one sprinting and the other going long, which is what I think he really wants to do. He's a big, strong, long-striding horse, and he'll relax and sit behind the speed and make his move."

has not started since Nov. 24, but must be considered for his class. He has earned a field-high $380,212, and three starts ago was second in the $100,000 Kelso Handicap at Delaware Park on Oct. 2.

Spicy Stuff closed out his campaign last year with a head score in a seven-furlong allowance run over two turns at Charles Town. Cherokee's Boy, a stakes winner, finished second, and the third-place finisher, Polish Pride, returned to win his next start.

Spicy Stuff races for Michael Gill, and he will be coupled in the wagering with Onlycook Half Ofit. Calvin Borel has been named on both horses by trainer Tim Hooper.