Ridden by Timothy Doocy, the Oaklawn-loving Semaphore Man got no breaks from his pace rivals in the six-furlong test. Breaking from the three hole, Semaphore Man had Saalb and Piratesonthelake to his inside and Vicarino on his outside coming out of the gate. The quartet flew early as Saalb gained a slender advantage through an opening quarter mile of :21.69 before Semaphore Man was able to squeeze out a narrow lead after a half-mile in :44.82.
Junior College, with Eusebio Razo Jr. aboard, was the major beneficiary of the speed duel. Slightly off the heat early on, he ranged up five wide on the outside rounding the turn to get a head in front in upper stretch. After putting away the tiring Vicarino mid-stretch, Junior College appeared to be ready to sweep past Semaphore Man as well, but the 6-year-old Formal Gold gelding wasn't done yet. In a spirited fight to the wire, Semaphore Man dug in valiantly along the inside and was edging away at the end to win in a time of 1:09.78. Junior College held on to nip Lovango and Luis Quinonez by a neck for second.
Vicarino, who finished fifth, and Semaphore Man were both sent off at 9-5 with the California invader a slight favorite.
Trained by Kelly R. Von Hemel for Darrell Rahe's Double Bogey Stable, Semaphore Man earned his first graded stakes win. An Oaklawn specialist, the dark bay ran second to Bordonaro in last year's Count Fleet. All seven of Semaphore Man's victories have come at the Arkansas track, where he has started 11 times and has never been out of the money.
Semaphore Man ran his career mark to 7-5-5 in 21 starts with earnings of $397,110 after collecting the $90,000 winner's share. He was coming off a runner-up finish in the Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds March 8.
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Murphy bred the winner, who is out of the Lost Code mare Semaphore Ms., in Kentucky.
It was not a great day at Oaklawn as its Racing Festival of the South continued. There was a torrential downpour and a tornado watch earlier. The track was sealed for racing.
Semaphore Man carried co-high weight of 118 pounds to victory and paid $5.60, $2.80, and $2.40. Junior College, who won the Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn by 2 1/4 lengths for trainer Tony Reinstedler March 22, returned $3.60 and $2.60 as the third choice. Lovango was $2.80 to show for conditioner McLean Robertson. Evening Reward, Vicarino, Piratesonthelake, and Saalb followed.