07/23/2003 12:00AM

Look to future, not past

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There is a sure winner on Friday: the movie "Seabiscuit," which is expected to race into theaters with a large turnout. But I'll be looking for another winner on Friday, and it won't be at my local cinema, but at the track.

Friday is the start of wagering in the first round of the Breeders' Cup future pools. Betting closes on Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Mineshaft, Medaglia d'Oro, Congaree, Empire Maker, and Funny Cide are among the options in what could be a thrilling Classic. Azeri and Wild Spirit would present a great matchup in the Distaff, provided that Wild Spirit is supplemented at a cost of $400,000. Aldebaran and Shake You Down head a competitive list of prospective Sprint competitors. And the Turf figures to offer wide-open wagering in light of how much is unclear regarding which Europeans will make the trip.

In pool 1, wagering is offered on all four of those races, but my focus is on the Classic, which could be the race of the year. The key word in that is "could." So much can happen in the next few months with injuries and retirements that, more than likely, some of the five big names will not make the race.

That's okay. I'll settle for three. That would still be one fine Classic.

My midsummer belief is that Mineshaft is the best horse in the country by a narrow margin. But a player should not approach a future wager strictly with the idea of betting what they believe to be the best horse. Too much is left to chance in the months to follow.

Do you remember the Classic favorite in pool 1 from a year ago? It was Street Cry (4-1), who was retired late last summer because of an injury. Mizzen Mast, the fourth betting choice at 10-1, also missed the Classic due to injury.

In fact, only eight of the 23 separate betting interests in pool 1 started in the Classic, which speaks of the fragility of Thoroughbreds and how their form can suddenly decline in a matter of months. At least there were fat prices on some that did compete.

Came Home, viewed by many as strictly a sprinter during the summer months, was 60-1 in the future pool and started at 7-1 in the big race. Harlan's Holiday, 30-1 in the future pool, started at 15-1. And Medaglia d'Oro, 25-1 in the future wager, went off as the Classic favorite at 7-2.

They all lost to longshot Volponi, who was part of the field. But those who held those tickets made good wagers from a value perspective.

What about the field? Last year many experts held the belief that the field would not be an attractive option, because so many top-level horses had already established themselves for the Classic. The perception was that fewer outsiders could come from out of nowhere to win the Classic, in contrast to the Kentucky Derby.

As it turned out, the field wager won. Volponi, part of the field at 6-1, won the Classic at 43-1. Additionally, field supporters also had E Dubai, Perfect Drift, and Evening Attire as representatives.

E Dubai and Perfect Drift, like Volponi, were longshots to win the Classic, starting on race day at 29-1 and 30-1, respectively. Evening Attire, however, was 5-1.

Aside from Evening Attire, a bettor could have made more money by wagering on Volponi and the other field horses on the day of the big race than betting on the field in pool 1. So I am not entirely convinced the field wager was a steal.

Looking at last year's results, what should the strategy be for this year? It seems the best course of action is to try to anticipate improvement from a horse. Simply backing the favorites in July does not seem like a sound practice.

So who might be an improving sort? If he sticks to his 30-1 morning-line odds, I will try Ten Most Wanted. Being California-based, his chance of making the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita is greater than that of an East Coast horse. And he hung so badly in the Swaps when losing as the favorite that I would be stunned if players were lining up to play him.

He still has much to learn, but perhaps he will begin to put things together in the second half of the season.

Other intriguing possibilities include Perfect Drift, if he goes up from his 15-1 morning line. And, of course, there may be another Volponi ready to rise to the occasion.