10/17/2007 12:00AM

An open mind can unlock BC vault

EmailPHILADELPHIA - Do you know which European horses run best on soft ground? Do you know which of them abhor hard ground? Do you know which of the sprinters wants to be on the outside? Do you know which have occasional issues leaving the gate?

There will be as many questions as there are horses when the 11 Breeders' Cup races are run next Friday and Saturday at Monmouth Park. With the pre-entries now out there for everyone to digest, one can start to make final preparations.

If you have not been keeping notes since the summer, you are already way behind. I can't help you catch up. In fact, you can't catch up.

I have been forming opinions for weeks. Nothing will be finalized even when post positions are drawn next Tuesday. I am willing to keep my options open until just before the races are run.

If you freeze your opinions and refuse to audible, you are being shortsighted. Even if I already have a strong opinion, I am willing to listen to intelligent information that could change it.

Read everything you can find in the next week. There could be a nugget in there that gets you home in a pick four or even the pick six; could get you a longshot to fill out a single-race exotic bet. Could be anything. But, if you don't have an open mind, it will be nothing.

A week out, my strongest opinion is Street Sense in the Classic. That will be a race when many players will use multiple horses in the pick six and pick four. One could certainly make a reasonable case for a half-dozen horses in there. My intention, at this point, is to stand alone with Street Sense, using up multiple spaces in other pick four and pick six races that some may not deem nearly as difficult as the Classic.

That opinion too could change.

Many plays will be formed with the thought that speed wins at Monmouth. That has been true as long as I have been going there.

But this is Monmouth in late October. Maybe it will be the Monmouth of July. Maybe it won't. Watch all the races closely leading up to the BC races. Don't just assume it is going to be a certain way because that is the way it has been.

The Euros always win the Turf. English Channel loves the Monmouth grass course. How do reconcile those two trends?

In fact, how do you deal with the Pletcher factor? He wins just about all the big races. He does not win on Breeders' Cup Day. At least, he hasn't won in the past.

Pletcher will be very live in the Distaff, Turf, and Classic, for sure. Do you handicap him as you normally would for a weekend card at Belmont Park? Or do you look at him and his horses differently because of his BC history?

I am always partial to trainers with an obvious plan.

That Greg Gilchrist sent Smokey Stover across the country to run in a Monmouth stakes on Sept. 1 sort of confirmed what I already knew about the man and the horse. The trainer of Lost in the Fog, he really believes in Smokey Stover and wanted to give the horse every chance in the BC Sprint. He wanted as few surprises as possible come the big day.

Look through the past performances and try to think along with the trainer. If there seems to be a plan that makes sense, upgrade the horse. If everything seems random, downgrade the horse.

In the end, you can only do so much planning. Or expect so much planning from others.

There comes a point where you have to make decisions. Making decisions without having done the groundwork is usually an exercise in futility.

The perfect player is one who does every bit of homework and then knows how to construct bets to maximize profits. Alas, none of us is perfect. There is simply not enough time with far too many distractions for perfection.

So, find the vulnerable favorites. Lock in on a few key horses or situations. Finalize your opinions. And do not be concerned if what you think is not what "they" think. In fact, assume "they" don't know that much. If you want to be anywhere, you want to be in places that are not crowded. Get there and you give yourself a chance. And giving yourself a chance is all that you can ever ask. After that, it is up to the racing gods.