02/16/2005 1:00AM

Another Delta dandy

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Jessica East/Coady Photography
Munificence has already won twice around two turns, including the Triple Sec at Delta Downs (above).

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The undefeated Munificence will have a bit of history on his side Saturday when he steps up in class for the $100,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He will be coming into the race off a Delta Downs stakes win, much like Crowned King, who in 2003 shipped to Hot Springs following a Delta stakes placing and upset one of Oaklawn's major races for 3-year-olds, the Rebel.

Munificence will face at least five other 3-year-olds in the one-mile Southwest, with the favorite being Grade 2 winner Greater Good. Others expected for the race are Humor at Last, Silver Haze, Copy My Notes, and Major League. My Parade is considered possible.

Munificence has never raced past seven furlongs, but has won a pair of two-turn races. After winning his maiden over 6 1/2 furlongs at Lone Star Park in October, Munificence won a conditioned allowance at Delta over seven furlongs, which is a two-turn race at the Vinton, La., track. He last raced on Jan. 28, and won the $50,000 Triple Sec at Delta over 6 1/2 furlongs, which is also a two-turn race.

Munificence has won his three starts by a combined 15 lengths. Munificence has good speed, and trainer Jim Hudson hopes it will work to Munificence's advantage in the Southwest, which will end at what is usually the sixteenth pole at Oaklawn.

"I think the type of horse he is, the short stretch going a mile, it will fit him," said Hudson.

Hudson said the purpose of the ship to Oaklawn is to see where Munificence fits among 3-year-olds. He seems to be coming into the race at his best.

"He's on the improve," said Hudson. "He's only run three times, but he gets better every race. Mentally, he's getting better every day."

Hudson said going from a deeper track at Delta to a faster track at Oaklawn should be an advantage for Munificence. He also gets a hot rider in Calvin Borel, who won the 4,000th race of his career on Wednesday.

Munificence is a Maryland-bred son of Allen's Prospect. His winning dam, See Jane, is a sister to Proud Run, an eight-time stakes winner who earned $663,910. Munificence was purchased as a yearling in Texas for $55,000.

Another good claim for Ritchey

Tim Ritchey is a trainer known for playing the claiming game well, and one of his recent acquisitions looks like a major player in the featured ninth race Friday. Always Noble will start as one of the top choices in the 1 1/16-mile conditioned allowance that carries a purse of $33,500.

Ritchey client Walter Wienkowitz claimed Always

Noble for $40,000 back in November, and one race later Always Noble won an entry-level allowance. Following a winter freshening, Always Noble ran second in a conditioned allowance at Oaklawn before winning a six-furlong starter in his last race Feb. 6.

Always Noble won the race in 1:11 and earned a career- best Beyer Figure of 96, which is higher than all the last-race numbers earned by his rivals on Friday.

Jeremy Rose will ride Always Noble, who should be sharp for the stretch-out on the heels of the sprint race. Other recent successful claims by Ritchey include Separato, a $40,000 claim last June who won the $100,000 Presidents Cup at Philadelphia Park in August and last out finished third in the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn.

Ritchey said Separato is now being pointed for the Grade 3, $125,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap at Oaklawn on March 13.

* Through the first 12 days of the Oaklawn meet there have been an incredible 77 claims. Total spending by stables has been $1,186,500.

* Oaklawn has averaged 9.95 starters per race this meet, which began on Jan. 21.