08/07/2003 11:00PM

Out of the Will's streak on the line

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Minor throat surgery and a winter vacation worked wonders for Out of the Will.

Out of the Will, unbeaten in four starts this year, tops the field in The Highlands Stakes Sunday at Monmouth Park.

The Highlands, for 3-year-old fillies going one mile on the turf, is one of three $50,000 stakes on the card. The Highlands and the Jersey Breeders' Handicap are restricted to New Jersey-bred runners; the Rumson is an open six-furlong race for 3-year-olds, which was originally scheduled to be run on Saturday.

Out of the Will struggled as a juvenile, managing only one second in four starts.

She looked like a different filly this summer after the operation and a winter at Ralph Sessa's Circle S Farm in Florida. A program that combined swimming and land training in the sunshine improved her fitness and attitude.

"We were pointing her for this meet," said trainer Tim J. Kelly. "When we got back to Monmouth in April, she was ready."

Ready might be an understatement.

Out of the Will won her maiden at the end of May and relentlessly marched through her allowance conditions. The outcomes were never in doubt, the winning margins ranging from 2 3/4 to 4 1/2 lengths.

The Highlands comes at a good time as Out of the Will has exhausted her statebred allowance conditions.

Out of the Will faces two interesting challenges for the first time: stakes company and turf. "I think she's ready to handle it," Kelly said. "She's doing super and I think she'll continue to do super."

Completing the field are Uphill Skier, Slavic Wind, Easianna, Eastern Gale, Sonia's Song, She's Got a Way, and the entry of Bold Executress and Smart N Classy.

The Jersey Breeders' gives older statebreds a two-turn stakes opportunity. It also offers a shot at redemption for Sea of Tranquility.

A 7-year-old trained by Richard Paulus, Sea of Tranquility was sixth in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on July 26, a race he won in 2001 and 2002. The drop back to statebred company could be the perfect tonic for him.

The Rumson did not go as scheduled when only four horses entered. The extra day produced one additional runner and got the race onto the card.

The race appears to be loaded with speed and the New Jersey-bred Something Smith might be speediest of all. He blazed his way to three wins in four starts, including an open allowance victory in his most recent outing.

"There's a lot of speed in the Rumson," said trainer Kevin Sleeter. "Something Smith prefers the lead. That's the way he runs."

Only the Best, Gators N Bears, Rockin on Ready, and Philadelphia Jim complete the field.

Tabacchi not for sale

The owners of Tabacchi decided the dream was more valuable than the tempting offers.

Deborah and Joel Sokol of Delray Beach, Fla., who race as Sterling Stables, decided to keep the promising 2-year-old, who made an impressive debut last weekend at Monmouth.

"I'm flattered that they have that much trust and confidence in me," said trainer Terri Pompay, who acted as agent in fielding the offers. "Hopefully we'll have a lot of good luck and hopefully the horse is what we think he is." Pompay has selected the $300,000 Delaware Park NATC Stakes on Aug. 30 at six furlongs as Tabacchi's next target.

Prado to ride Grand Hombre

Trainer Dennis Manning has lined up Edgar Prado to ride the unbeaten Grand Hombre in the Grade 3, $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 1 at Philadelphia Park.

Grand Hombre, an impressive winner of all three starts, turned in a strong 48-second half-mile breeze Wednesday morning at Monmouth.

Grand Hombre holds the distinction of being the only horse to beat Strong Hope, who defeated Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.