07/31/2004 12:00AM

Indian Country stretching out little by little

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DEL MAR, Calif. - With an eye toward the $75,000 El Cajon Stakes next month, trainer Bob Baffert has entered in a $59,000 optional claiming sprint at Del Mar on Monday.

A victory could lead to a start in the restricted El Cajon, for 3-year-olds over a mile on Sept. 3.

"I'd like to stretch him out," Baffert said.

The optional claimer is one of two feature races on Monday's eight-race program. The program includes a $58,000 allowance race for fillies and mares over 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Indian Country enters Monday's race, at 6 1/2 furlongs, following consecutive victories in six-furlong races at Hollywood Park. Owned and bred by Hal and Patti Earnhardt, Indian Country won a maiden race by three lengths on June 5 and a first-condition allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths July 17.

"It was a very good performance," Baffert said of the July 17 race.

Indian Country is likely to lead on Monday. He disputed the pace on June 5, and led on July 17 through early fractions of 21.83 and 44.79 seconds.

Indian Country will not have much company on the front, although Withholding Info, unraced since November, has shown speed, and Sunset Place, who has not started in 13 months, has won from the front.

Sunset Place is a half-brother to Affluent, the millionaire mare who was retired earlier this year. Trained by Ron McAnally, Sunset Place was sidelined because of a knee injury. Sunset Place has been working slowly, but that's no surprise to McAnally.

"He's hasn't been a real good work horse, but he's never been," McAnally said. "That's the way he was last year."

The closers include Fairly Crafty, who has won his last two starts, both at Hollywood Park. Trained by Doug Peterson, Fairly Crafty won an allowance race over 6 1/2 furlongs for statebreds on May 31 and a race against open company over 7 1/2 furlongs on July 10.

Trainer Jeff Mullins starts Grand Appointment, a winner of 3 of 11 starts who has not run in 11 months. Mullins has an outstanding record with horses coming off layoffs.

McAnally has a leading chance in the turf allowance race with Papillon Rouge, a 4-year-old who was a stakes winner last year in Chile. In her U.S. debut, in an allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park on June 11, Papillon Rouge broke poorly and closed well through the final furlong to finish fourth.