04/12/2005 12:00AM

Count Fleet sets up well for closers


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The abundance of speed in the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Thursday is enough to make a trainer with a horse who can come from off the pace salivate. Just ask Andrew Leggio, Bob Holthus, and Cole Norman.

Their respective starters - Ole Rebel, Level Playingfield, and That Tat - are among those who will benefit from what figures to be a hot pace in the Count Fleet, a six-furlong race that continues the Festival of the South at Oaklawn. Among the front-end players in the race are Rodeo's Castle and Top Commander, who drew side-by-side from the rail, and Forest Grove, who invades from Southern California for trainer Eoin Harty.

"We'll have something to run at," said Holthus. "I think there will be plenty of speed."

, who is a Grade 3 winner, was second by a neck last out in the $50,000 Hot Springs on March 26. He closed from six lengths back in the slop, and before that race he won an allowance at Oaklawn in 1:09.80.

"Every time you lead him over, he tries," said Holthus, who has given the mount to John McKee. "He just gives 110 percent every time he runs."

last raced March 19 at Fair Grounds and finished second by a head to Gold Storm in the $125,000 Kenner Breeders' Cup under Corey Lanerie. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109. It is the second-highest last-race number in the Count Fleet, behind the 110 earned by Top Commander.

is one of two uncoupled starters in the field for Norman. The other is That Tat, who won the prep for the Count Fleet, the Hot Springs Stakes. Top Commander was an outstanding allowance winner in his last start, cruising throughout to win a six-furlong race in 1:09.60. Jamie Theriot will ride That Tat, and Carlos Gonzalez will ride Top Commander.

Jeremy Rose will ride Forest Grove, a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Tout Charmant who flew in Sunday. Forest Grove last raced Feb. 20, finishing second by a length in the $78,000 Daytona Handicap over 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita. The winning time was 1:14.

"He ran really, really well," Harty said. "He just got beat and was going toe-to-toe the whole way.

"I expect him to be close to this pace," he said. "It seems to me all his best races are when he is close to the lead."

The field also includes Engineered and Two Down Automatic.