04/10/2008 11:00PM

In his third try, Semaphore Man wins Count Fleet

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Kelly Von Hemel said earlier this week that Semaphore Man was on top of his game coming into the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Thursday, and the horse delivered one of the best performances of his career. He dueled on the lead with three rivals and went on to win by a length and a quarter over multiple stakes winner Junior College. It was another neck back in third to Lovango.

Vicarino, who was favored, finished fifth in the Count Fleet. The six-furlong race was the latest of 11 stakes being run over the final week of the Oaklawn meet in what is the annual Racing Festival of the South. The season will close Saturday with the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Semaphore Man ($5.60) dueled three wide in the Count Fleet with Saalb, Piratesonthelake, and Vicarino through fractions of 21.69 seconds for the opening quarter and 44.82 for ahalf-mile. The field came into the stretch spread across the track, with Semaphore Man going on to cover the distance on a track rated wet-fast in 1:09.78.

"All four of his races this spring have been so good," said Von Hemel, who also sent out Semaphore Man to win the $50,000 King Cotton here in February, and place in a pair of sprint stakes at Fair Grounds.

Tim Doocy rode Semaphore Man in the Count Fleet. It was the horse’s first victory in the race after finishing second in it a year ago and third in 2006. Semaphore Man earned $90,000 for his win, his seventh from 21 starts. All of his wins have come at Oaklawn. He has now earned $397,110.

Von Hemel said Semaphore Man could now be freshened. In time, he said he might like to try the horse on turf.

Semaphore Man is a 6-year-old by Formal Gold and he races for Double Bogey Stable.