03/20/2009 12:00AM

Semaphore Man preps for title defense


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Semaphore Man will use Saturday's $50,000 Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park as a springboard to his title defense in next month's Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap. The six-furlong Hot Springs is the final local prep for the Count Fleet, the premier sprint race of the meet which will be run on April 10.

Semaphore Man won the Count Fleet by 1 1/4 lengths in 2008 and earned a Beyer Figure of 102. He equaled that number in his first start of the year on Jan. 31, when he finished second to Native Ruler in the $50,000 King Cotton. Semaphore Man and Native Ruler dueled for much of the six-furlong race, with Native Ruler edging clear late for 1 1/2-length win.

"He ran great last time, Native Ruler just ran a little better," said Kelly Von Hemel, who trains Semaphore Man for Double Bogey Stable. "We had no excuses."

There will not be a rematch Saturday, but there could be in the Count Fleet. Native Ruler has been sidelined with an abscess in his right front foot, said his trainer, Chris Richard. However, he said Native Ruler has not been ruled out of consideration for the Count Fleet.

Despite his absence, there are several other horses of interest in the Hot Springs, which drew a field of six. Gold Coyote, who has won his last four starts, makes his first start since October on Saturday. He was freshened following his two-length win in the $50,000 Watson MacManus Memorial at Retama Park, said his trainer, Bret Calhoun.

Silver Edition cuts back to one turn after prompting the pace and finishing seventh in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap here March 7. The field also includes Normandy Shore, an optional claiming winner last out at Fair Grounds who worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Oaklawn on March 13.

But the horse to beat is Semaphore Man, who is 7 for 12 at Oaklawn and who owns the field's best last-out Beyer Figure.

"I expect the same performance out of him," said Von Hemel. "He runs good on this track. He's fresh, and he's been working good."

Tim Doocy has the mount on Semaphore Man, who will break from post 3.

* The Arkansas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association will hold its annual dinner-dance Saturday night at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs.