06/13/2002 11:00PM

Top Jersey-breds ready to duke it out

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - John Little and Sea of Tranquility are Grade 3 winners and the best New Jersey-breds stabled at Monmouth. They are also widely considered the best handicap horses on the grounds. A fitting matchup would be in a Grade 2 or Grade 3 for older horses. Instead, the two will square off for the first time on Sunday in the $50,000 Jersey Breeders' Handicap for statebreds at one mile.

John Little and Sea of Tranquility have had tremendous success outside the statebred ranks. John Little, a 4-year-old gelding, had a breakout winter at Aqueduct with three allowance victories before recording his biggest career win in the Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct on April 6. Trained by Debbie Bodner, John Little made the biggest start of his career in the Grade 2 Mass Cap June 1. He was in a striking position turning for home but finished fifth. Bodner said she was happy with John Little's performance against his toughest competition to date. Bodner has been pointing John Little to the Grade 2 Iselin Handicap here Aug. 18 since the spring.

Sea of Tranquility, a 6-year-old gelding, ran his biggest race in the $50,000 Frisk Me Now Stakes at one mile, earning a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in a nearly eight-length romp. He won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile last year and always excels at Monmouth for trainer Richard Paulus. Sea of Tranquility's best distance is at one mile and he should be a slight betting favorite over John Little.

Summer Swing, trained by Kevin Sleeter, will probably be the third betting choice and has a legitimate opportunity to knock off the two favorites. He won the John J. Reilly Stakes on opening weekend, a race in which Sea of Tranquility finished third, and then ran third in the Frisk Me Now.

Beknown to Me, Catechol, Thistyranthasclass, and Red Weasel complete the field.

Valid Video wins 2-year-old race

Valid Video ($10.20) was a convincing winner in the first 2-year-old maiden race for colts on Friday over a sloppy track. Valid Video, a son of Valid Wager, went the five-furlong distance in a very quick 57.11 with jockey Carlos Cruz in the saddle. He was always within one length of the lead before taking control at the eighth pole down the stretch. He ran the last eighth-mile in 11.65 seconds, opening up down the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Farno. Max's Cat was back in third and the 2-1 favorite Smokin Mike was fourth.

Valid Video, a gelding, was a $29,000 weanling purchase by Mac Fehsenfeld and is trained by Dennis Manning. Manning said most of his horses are gelded because he thinks it makes them better racehorses.

"You won't see him for awhile," Manning said. "I'll give him a break and train him right up to the Sapling."

The Grade 3, $100,000 Sapling, the premier race for 2-year-olds at Monmouth, is on Aug. 10.

Deville on Our Emblem bandwagon early

With War Emblem's success in the Triple Crown, the stock of his sire, Our Emblem, has risen tremendously. With that, the stock of his offspring have risen also. One trainer at Monmouth who liked Our Emblem foals before War Emblem rose to national prominence is Carl Deville.

Deville had two Our Emblem foals in his barn to start the meet: Emblitterate, a 2-year-old filly, and Raise an Emblem, a 2-year-old colt. Emblitterate ran second in the first juvenile race of the meet on May 30 and was recently sold and transferred to the barn of Linda Rice.

Raise an Emblem, a New-York bred owned by U-Hamm Stable, won at Keeneland on opening day, April 18, and then ran poorly in the Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes on Derby Day, May 4. Deville said Raise an Emblem is the best 2-year-old in his barn and he is giving him time off before pointing him to the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga on July 25.

"Our Emblem's babies are very good looking horses," Deville said. "That's what I liked about Emblitterate and Raise an Emblem when we bought them."

One of the other juvenile standouts in the barn is Ormsbys Treasure, a New-York bred filly. She ran sixth at Keeneland in her first start and then third in a maiden at Belmont, won by La Violette, who next ran fifth in the Fashion Stakes at Belmont. Deville said he is looking for a maiden race in New York to run Ormsbys Treasure.