07/25/2002 12:00AM

Sea of Tranquility's task tougher than last year


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Richard Paulus purchased Sea of Tranquility for $6,500 at the Ocala April 2-year-old sales four years ago. In 50 career starts, the now 6-year-old Sea of Tranquility has earned a little more than $550,000. It may be his 51st start on Saturday in the Grade 3, $100,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth, though, that proves to be his most important career race.

The New Jersey-bred Sea of Tranquility captured his first graded stakes in the Salvator last year, but his repeat attempt will come against a much tougher field. The Salvator, carded as the ninth race on a 10-race card, drew an outstanding field of New York shippers and local handicap horses.

Sea of Tranquility is the star of Paulus's six-horse barn at Monmouth and he has followed a campaign this summer similar to the one he navigated to a Salvator victory in 2001. After running third in the John J. Reilly Handicap for statebreds opening weekend, he moved on to a career-best performance in the Frisk Me Now Stakes. He earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure in the nearly eight-length victory over fellow Salvator starter Tempest Fugit.

Since the Frisk Me Now, Sea of Tranquility has a win in the Jersey Breeders' Handicap and recently ran second to another Salvator starter, Cat's at Home, in the Skip Away Stakes. The Salvator has been the goal for Sea of Tranquility all summer and he has four wins in eight starts at the distance.

"This is the race we've been pointing for," Paulus, 70, said. "Everything's gone according to plan and now we'll see if we can win it two years in a row. Right now he knows he's going to race."

Express Tour, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, will be making his second start of the year in the Salvator and his strong credentials should make him a lukewarm favorite. In his only race at one mile on the dirt, he won the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap as a 3-year-old last year.

Coming off a nine-month layoff, Express Tour, owned by Godolphin Racing, pressed the pace in the Grade 2 Tom Fool going seven furlongs at Belmont on July 4 before fading to fourth. All of his five races dating to an eighth-place finish in the 2001 Kentucky Derby have been in Grade 1's or Grade 2's.

Of the horses stabled on the grounds, First Lieutenant is the one to watch. He ran second in the Grade 2 Iselin Handicap here last year, and although Saturday's race is his first of the year, First Lieutenant has always run well off extended layoffs for trainer Phil Oliver.

New York shipper Free of Love, winner of the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap, Gerosa, Wild Summer, and Firm Believer complete the field.

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