02/18/2005 1:00AM

Chindi, 11, won his last and isn't done yet


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - It was a race that all who saw will never forget: Chindi barreling down the Oaklawn stretch in his debut as an 11-year-old on Feb. 5 to top a good field of horses. It was an awesome sight, and one that his trainer, Steve Hobby, hopes he will be seeing again later this meet at Oaklawn.

Chindi, the white stretch-running son of El Prado, is one of the most popular horses in the Midwest. He launched his career on March 15, 1997, winning his debut in a maiden claiming race at Oaklawn.

A year later, Chindi won Oaklawn's Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, and then in 2000 captured the Grade 3 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs. Overall, the five-time stakes winner has won 18 of 79 starts and $997,238.

But one of his most memorable wins will remain the one-length optional claiming score on Feb. 5, for which he earned a Beyer Figure of 89.

"It was fun . . . and he won easily," said Hobby. "I'd been thinking, well, I've got to get him over the $1 million mark and retire him, but after he ran the other day, I said, 'If he wants to keep running like that, I'll let him run as long as he wants to.'"

Hobby said he is tentatively looking at an allowance three weeks from now for Chindi. "We'll just see how his training's coming," he said. "Of course, I want to get him over the million, and then, if he can't compete at that level like he did the other day, we'll stop. If he can, then we'll let him. He really likes his job. He's not going to like quitting."

Chindi lives the life of Riley at the Hobby barn. There are an endless supply of peppermints from numerous admirers, a blue ball in his stall for fun, and an entertaining stable goat named Molly. Hobby said when the gelded Chindi does retire, he will get some time off at a farm and will then become a stable pony.

"We'll turn him out, but he never liked being turned out," said Hobby.

Hongkong live Sunday for Hobby

Hobby has been on a roll this meet. He has won with 5 of 13 starters and is tied for fourth in the standings, which are led by Cole Norman. Hobby has 30 horses at Oaklawn.

"I've got horses with conditions, a lot of young horses with conditions," said Hobby.

One of them, the 3-year-old Hongkong, will start in a 1 1/16-mile allowance Sunday for 3- and 4-year-olds who have never won two races. Hongkong comes into the race off a fast-closing second in a one-mile entry-level allowance Jan. 22.

"He ran really well, I thought," said Hobby. "It looks like the mile and a sixteenth will suit him even better than the mile."

Hobby will also have a runner in the $50,000 Pippin on Sunday - Casual Attitude. She won an allowance race on Jan. 30 and has developed into a quality stakes mare for owners Russ Beran and Dick Johnson.

"I thought she'd be up close to the lead, and she ended up coming from last," Hobby said of Casual Attitude's last out. "She used to be like that when she was younger. She always had to be up close to the lead. She didn't have to be in front, but she wanted to be forwardly placed. Now, it seems like she'll close, do a little bit of anything, which is nice."

Lozano tearing up charts at Oaklawn

Trainer Martin Lozano has been on a roll at Oaklawn, winning with 7 of 17 starters to rank second in the standings. Lozano has 30 horses in Hot Springs and works as a private trainer for Gary Owens, who ranks as the leading owner at Oaklawn.

Lozano, 42, said the fast start at the meet has been thrilling. "I think we came in with fit horses from Sunland," he said. "That's been a good thing."

Other factors that have benefited the barn are quality horses and the change in altitude from New Mexico. "I don't know how much difference there is, but there is a difference there," said Lozano. "They came from heavier air over there, and it's not as heavy here."

Lozano is one of the brightest young trainers in the region, and one of his stable's best horses the past year has been The Niner Account.

Owens claimed him for $20,000 in February 2004, and The Niner Account has since won six races, including a stakes. In his last start, The Niner Account was third in an allowance at Sunland on Dec. 21. He has since been freshened, said Lozano.

"He'll come back into training in a month," said Lozano.

Owens and Lozano have a number of quality young horses coming up, and they are especially excited about recent Oaklawn winner Shrewd Deputy. Following the current meet, Lozano will move his home base to Lone Star Park.

* Early nominations to the Rebel and Arkansas Derby drew 88 horses, including Declan's Moon, Afleet Alex, and Rockport Harbor.