04/09/2009 12:00AM

Lovango back from layoff for Count Fleet


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Lovango turned in one of the best performances of his career off a significant layoff last season at Oaklawn. Trainer Mac Robertson is hoping for the same kind of results on Friday, when the strapping horse makes his first start of the year in the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.

The six-furlong stakes is one of five graded races being run over the final week of the meet as part of Oaklawn's annual Racing Festival of the South.

Lovango drew post 12 in a deep field that includes defending champ Semaphore Man. To win, Lovango might need to duplicate an allowance score here in February 2008, when in his first start in seven months he covered six furlongs in 1:09.80, for a Beyer Speed Figure of 100. Friday, Lovango will be making his first start since Aug. 23, when he finished 10th in the $200,000 Arlington Sprint.

"He ran a dull race," Robertson said. "He acted like he needed a rest, so we turned him out 90 days at the farm."

Lovango returned to the stable with tender feet, which pushed back his first start of the year to Friday.

"He wasn't right," Robertson said. "He's a great big horse, and I didn't want him getting sore somewhere else because he was getting off his feet, so we just shedrowed him with no shoes for 45 days. We kept the shed row kind of hard, toughened his soles up, and we put shoes on him and he's been fine since."

A six-furlong work from the gate in 1:12.20 here April 3 said as much, as does the fact that Lovango is a dappled picture of health.

"He had a big work, and he came back and he's acting like King Kong, and I hope he runs like him," said Robertson, who has given the mount to Luis Quinonez.

Semaphore Man was fourth by 1 1/2 lengths in the $50,000 Hot Springs in his last start March 21.

"He got in a little bit of a speed duel, but usually he can handle that," said trainer Kelly Von Hemel.

Greeley's Conquest was sixth last out in the $100,000 Duncan Kenner at Fair Grounds, a race whose runner-up, Kodiak Kowboy, won last Saturday's Grade 1 Carter.

"He hit the side of the gate coming out of there hard, real hard," said his trainer, Gary Thomas. "He was last by two or three lengths away from the gate. I want to see him get away clean."