04/07/2008 11:00PM

Semaphore Man showing positive signs


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - This is prime time for Semaphore Man. He comes into Thursday's Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park on top of his game. Semaphore Man opened his season here in February with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 107. In his most recent start, he was second to the undefeated Euroears.

"His last couple of races have been as good as he's ever run," said Kelly Von Hemel, who trains Semaphore Man for Double Bogey Stable. "I mean, if he's not better than he ever was, he's as good as he's ever been right now."

Semaphore Man is co-highweighted at 118 pounds with Junior College in the six-furlong Count Fleet, which continues the Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn. From now through the close of the meet Saturday, at least one stakes a day is run. Thursday's cast for the Count Fleet also includes Vicarino, who was third in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Sprint Handicap after dueling through quick fractions, and Piratesonthelake.

Semaphore Man opened his Oaklawn campaign this year with a 2o3/4-length win in the $50,000 King Cotton on Feb. 2. He then set the pace in the $200,000 Kenner at Fair Grounds on March 8 and was overtaken by Euroears. On Thursday, Semaphore Man returns to Oaklawn, where he has gained all six of his career wins and run his best two career Beyers.

"I think he loves the track, but he's also fresh and he's at his best when he's at Oaklawn," said Von Hemel.

Tim Doocy has the mount on Semaphore Man, who in the last two Count Fleets here has run second and third to Grade 1 winner Bordonaro.

Piratesonthelake won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint last fall, one start after dead-heating with In Summation for the win in the $125,000 Arlington Sprint Handicap. He is making his second start of the year after finishing fourth as the favorite in a $100,000 optional claiming race at Hawthorne on March 15.

"That day the track was really deep, and I don't think he handled the racetrack," said Jim DiVito, who trains Piratesonthelake. "He's come back and worked really good."

Piratesonthelake, who has worked consecutive bullets for the Count Fleet, is appealing for his versatility.

"I think he can lay off the pace, and he can be real close to the pace," said DiVito.