01/11/2002 12:00AM

Munger still knows how to win

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Astute handicappers have long recognized Don Munger as one of the most consistent and productive trainers in Northwest racing. Though he has never trained enough horses to compete for leading trainer honors, Munger has regularly sent out a high percentage of winners, and he has often provided a positive rate of return for win bettors.

That's still the case at the current Portland Meadows meet, where Munger, 78, has compiled a record of eight wins, six seconds, and four thirds from 25 starters for a 32 percent win clip and a 72 percent in-the-money rate. Until Grid North finished eighth in Sunday's eighth race, every one of Munger's starters had earned a check by finishing fifth or better.

"I've had two advantages at this meet," said Munger. "The first is that almost all of my horses were in training at Emerald Downs, then we were able to maintain their fitness by training them in the arena at Country Lane Farms in Enumclaw, Wash., until this track opened for training a couple of weeks before the meeting began. That gave us a big edge over all the horses who had been turned out.

"The main thing, though, is that my assistant, Robert Sodergren, has done a great job. He is the one who has been with the horses here at the track while I've been at my farm in Enumclaw, so he deserves most of the credit. I'm only here on weekends."

Munger has been training horses since he was discharged from the U.S. Marines after World War II, during which he served four campaigns in the South Pacific as a member of an elite unit of scout-snipers. He began breeding and racing his own stable in the 1960's, when he stood the Noor stallion Kaneohe Bay at his Enumclaw farm. After that stallion retired, he bred his many Kaneohe Bay mares to his new stallion, Barbaric Spirit, and he has followed that same pattern through successive stallions Toooverprime, Southern Sign, and now Detox, a son of Dr. Bloom whose first crop has just turned 3.

"I have sort of put all my eggs in one basket from the beginning, but I have been fortunate in that each stallion I have owned has been able to produce winners," said Munger. "If one of them had been a bust, I would have been out of business a long time ago, but so far I've been lucky."

Two breeds, one horse

With any luck, local fans will get to see a racing rarity in March, when a 3-year-old filly named Painted La Riva makes her debut at Portland Meadows for trainer Jim Keen. Painted La Riva, a daughter of Airdrie Apache and Lazy Ridge, by Riva Ridge, was bred at Painted Desert Farm in Redmond, Ore., by owner Dalene Knight.

Knight is famous for breeding the last three of only a dozen Thoroughbreds ever to be registered as white in color. Painted La Riva isn't white, but she is something almost as rare. Because both her parents are Thoroughbreds, she is registered as a Thoroughbred. But because of her color - chestnut with copious splotches of white - she is also registered as a Paint Horse.

"We've never had a double-registered horse since I've been at Portland Meadows, and we never had one at Yakima Meadows when I was there," said Jerry Kohls, Portland Meadows racing secretary. Grant Holcomb, former Longacres racing secretary, now at Emerald Downs, added that he had never seen a double-registered horse, either.

Keen said Painted La Riva, known as "Spot" around his barn, has been on the grounds for more than a month and has worked three furlongs.

"She is still a couple of months away from starting, but she acts like a race horse," said the trainer. "It's too early to guess how much talent she has, but she seems to know what she is doing, and she sure is a striking individual. If she is as fast as she is pretty, we'll really have something."