07/19/2004 12:00AM

Sea of Tranquility looking tough


CHICAGO - When they fully register, Apt to Be's career numbers are startling. Now 7, Apt to Be has made 27 starts. At every track except Arlington Park, he has gone 1 for 15 - at Arlington he is 8 for 12. And the kicker is this: Richard Duchossois, Arlington's longtime chairman, bred and owns Apt to Be.

But on Wednesday, in Arlington's featured eighth race, Apt to Be runs headlong into a horse who likes to win anywhere, anytime. He is Sea of Tranquility, who at age 8 has 72 starts under his belt, 22 of them winning ones. The last victory came here June 20, and it was a corker - a five-length win over a high-end allowance group in an excellent 1:35.40 for a mile.

Not bad for an old-timer, and not bad for a New Jersey-bred son of Heff who cost $6,500 at a Florida 2-year-old in training auction. Sea of Tranquility's trainer and part-owner, Richard Paulus, found him at that sale, which seems about as distant as the Middle Ages. What Paulus saw at the time was a strong, well-made horse, who, if nothing else, could be sold as a hunter-jumper.

"After I worked him a couple times, I said, 'He's not going to be a jumper. He's going to be a runner,' " Paulus said.

A runner he is. Sea of Tranquility won the Salvatore Mile at Monmouth Park in 2001 and 2002, and three times he has been named the year's best New Jersey-bred. But between August of 2003 and April of 2004, Sea of Tranquility lost seven times in a row, and to an outsider, he seemed to be declining. Paulus believed otherwise.

"He was down at Tampa, and he does not like that track at all," he said. "I ran him there to keep him fit."

Indeed, Sea of Tranquility bounced back with a big win in an overnight stakes race at Calder, and after a sprint here June 11, he returned nine days later looking as strong as ever.

It is a performance level Sea of Tranquility has to maintain to win again Wednesday in another high-end, one-turn dirt mile. Apt to Be, second in this year's Hanshin Handicap, first in 2003, was supposed to run in the June 20 allowance, but was suffering then from one of the quarter cracks that have interrupted his career. Trainer Chris Block has gotten a pair of works into Apt to Be, who had just reached true fitness in late May.

Throw the good horse Intern into Wednesday's fray, and what you have is a little midweek gem of an allowance race.