02/03/2003 12:00AM

Chindi should be fine at 9


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Can the late-running Chindi be as productive this year as he was last season when he won three races as an 8-year-old? It's very possible. The gelding is working unusually strongly for his 9-year-old debut, which is scheduled for Wednesday at Oaklawn Park.

Chindi will meet seven others in a $60,000 optional claiming race at six furlongs, including fellow stakes winners Cowboy Stuff and That Tat. None were entered for the claiming price, and the purse is $37,000.

Chindi, who has never been one to work really fast during training hours, drilled a bullet four furlongs in 48 seconds in one of his recent breezes at Oaklawn. He followed that work with a pair of strong five-furlong drills, both in 1:02.20.

"He is working a little better than normal," trainer Steve Hobby said.

Chindi, who has registered six of his 16 career wins at Oaklawn, will be making his first start since finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Ack Ack at Churchill on Oct. 27 of last year. Following that race, he went on his annual vacation from racing.

"We turn him out every fall and he hates it," Hobby said with a laugh. "He likes being here. When he's out, he walks the fence and wants back in. He's smart. He knows this is a better life than standing out there swatting flies in the field."

Chindi won an allowance race last March at Oaklawn and earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. He also finished third, beaten a half-length by Beau's Town, in the $50,000 Hot Springs last meet before winning a $60,000 optional claiming race at Prairie Meadows.

Chindi's other win last year came last August, when he won in a field of $100,000 optional claimers at Arlington.

As in all of his victories, he rallied from off the pace for the win, and will again be dependent on quick early fractions Wednesday.

"It looks like there's some speed in there," said Hobby, who has given the mount to Tim Doocy. "I wish there was a little more. I always wish for lots of speed."

Cowboy Stuff should be close to the leaders. Last year was a strong one for the colt, who won 6 of 10 starts, including the $100,000 Round Table at Arlington and the $75,000 Iowa Breeders' Derby.

He has not raced since he finished second in the $82,000 Prairie Meadows Derby on Sept. 21.

"We gave him a little rest," trainer Don Von Hemel said. "He'd had some pretty tough races last year, and we just figured a little vacation would be good for him. He's been training very well so far."

Cowboy Stuff, who is a three-time winner at six furlongs, will be ridden by Terry Thompson.

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