04/10/2009 12:00AM

Semaphore Man repeats in Count Fleet

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Semaphore Man's love affair with Oaklawn Park generally, and the Count Fleet Handicap specifically, continued on Friday when the popular veteran gelding tenaciously held off a late run from Greeley's Conquest to capture the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet for the second straight year before a crowd of 21,782.

Semaphore Man ($13.40) was part of a hot, contested pace from the start. After breaking alertly, he set or forced fractions of 21.96 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.27 seconds for a half-mile, repelled his early challengers -- Secretintelligence and Garifine -- and then bravely staved off the late run of Greeley's Conquest to win by a neck in 1:09.94 for six furlongs on the fast main track.

Accredit was third, another three-quarters of a length behind.

Semaphore Man, 7, has won 9 of 27 lifetime starts, but he has been particularly effective here. In 14 starts at Oaklawn Park, he has won eight times and finished in the money 13 times. Cliff Berry rode Semaphore Man for trainer Kelly Von Hemel.

"The fractions were a little quicker than we wanted, but he was doing it comfortably," Von Hemel said. "I think he proved today that he's as good as he was last year."

Semaphore Man had won just once in five starts since last year's Count Fleet. He was coming off a fourth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Hot Springs Handicap, last month's prep for the Count Fleet.

"The way he ran today shows he just got a little tired last time," Von Hemel said. "He came back and ran a big race."