03/21/2007 11:00PM

New shooters challenge Semaphore Man

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Semaphore Man is clearly the one to beat Saturday in the $50,000 Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park following a sparkling comeback win here last month, but he faces some interesting new shooters in the six-furlong race, among them Mt. Splendor.

Mt. Splendor has won his last three races, all at the

six-furlong distance of the Hot Springs. Other new faces Saturday include Junior College, a multiple stakes winner who won an $80,000 optional claiming race here March 3, and Reigning Court, winner of the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint last September.

But the focus will be on Semaphore Man, who in his first start since July cruised to a 3 1/2-length wire-to-wire win in the $50,000 King Cotton here Feb. 9. Since the race, he has turned in a series of strong works for trainer Kelly Von Hemel, who has given the mount to Tim Doocy.

Mt. Splendor has come to hand rapidly since December, when he won a first-level allowance at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He proceeded to win a pair of optional claimers at Oaklawn, his latest on Feb. 16, when he covered six furlongs in a meet-best time of 1:09.40.

"He's just all of the sudden gotten good," said Hal Wiggins, who trains Mt. Splendor for Millsap Stable. "Maybe being a young 4-year-old, maybe he matured a little later."

Mt. Splendor will break from post 5 in the six-horse field, outside of Semaphore Man, who drew gate 3.

"It looks like to me, Semaphore Man and maybe one other horse may be the speed of the race," said Wiggins. "Hopefully, we can lay right off of them on the outside, which is kind of the way this horse likes to run."

Wiggins has given the mount to Joe Johnson.

If the pace is hot, one horse who would benefit is Level Playingfield. He closed for second in the King Cotton. Trainer Bob Holthus has given the mount to John McKee.

Junior College won the $50,000 Don Bernhardt at

6 1/2 furlongs at Ellis Park last summer with a Beyer Speed Figure of 107. Trainer Tony Reinstedler has given the mount to John Jacinto.