03/06/2002 12:00AM

Publish? Perish the thought!


ARCADIA, Calif. - The success of Laura Hillenbrand's biography of Seabiscuit has triggered a feeding frenzy among publishers both large and small. They smell best-sellers, where once there was only manure. Horse stories, now all the vogue, will come spilling onto the shelves at the big chains over the next few months with titles like "Stud" and "My Racing Heart." Perhaps horse racing can become a trickle in the mainstream after all.

But what about the stories ahead of their time? What happened to the manuscripts that never caught an editor's eye, back in the days when diet books and Erma Bombeck monopolized the racks at the local Crown Books? This may be an opportunity for those frustrated authors to dig around in the garage and find that box full of broken dreams, the racing novel that never saw the light of day.

Already, a few of them have been dusted off, reworked, and are making the rounds at the major publishing houses. Whether or not they deserve a second look, only time will tell. There is buzz, though - or at least a dull, throbbing hum - for some of the following titles.

"Grudge" takes its inspiration from the infamous 1933 Kentucky Derby, in which Don Meade, on Broker's Tip, and Herb Fisher, on Head Play, spent most of the stretch run yanking on each other's saddle cloths and whapping each other with their whips. Fiona Breen, a trained psychiatric health care provider and part-time mutuel clerk at Delaware Park, delves into the back story, tracing the enmity of Meade and Fisher to their chance meeting as young boys and a traumatic incident involving a tractor, the daughter of a local sharecropper, and a love so forbidden no one dares speak its name.

"Dusted" will be pitched to the teenage audience as an inspirational tale of persistence in the face of abject failure, always a popular theme. It is the story of Run Dusty Run, the brave little colt who was repeatedly humiliated by Seattle Slew in the 1977 Triple Crown. Sure, he could only finish second in the Derby, third in the Preakness, and second in the Belmont. That should have been enough to discourage any horse. But not Dusty. He shook off the disappointment and jumped right back into the battle, and by August of that same year he had escaped the shadow of Seattle Slew and won the glorious Travers Stakes at Saratoga - only to be cruelly disqualified. To his credit, author Chad Millvalley deals with Dusty's trainer, who was nicknamed Smiley, without once resorting to the word "ironic."

"A Is for Anti-inflammatory" will be, hopefully, the first installment of a new racing mystery series by former veterinary student Paul Fissure (one semester, Cal Poly Pomona), who writes under the nom de plume Bog Spavin. Fissure's hero is the swashbuckling racetrack practitioner Dr. Algernon "Doc" Potomac, a part-time lounge singer and backgammon hustler who stumbles upon crimes of both passion and illicit gain during the course of his backstretch rounds. "A Is for Anti-inflammatory" takes Doc Potomac down a dark road of international intrigue, suspicious joint capsules, and forbidden love when he finds himself involved with a South Korean bloodstock agent and a large bag of cash. If it clicks, watch for "B Is for Back at the Knees."

"A Treasury of Great Catalog Pages" may sound a tad dry for all but the truly devoted bloodstock aficionado. But wait! There is more. These pages will be printed in color! (If it sells, brace yourself for "Kenny Noe's Greatest Condition Books" and "The Illustrated Training Charts of Dale Baird.")

"Being Andy Beyer" was originally a screenplay treatment that was optioned as a weekly series on the WB network but then turned down late in development and kicked back to the original writer, Claire Volant, who had already spent the advance. Volant decided to reshape her project into an illustrated, slightly off-center look at the world of high-stakes handicapping, set in such exotic locales as Laughlin, Deadwood, and Biloxi, where the cream of the nation's handicappers gather to match their skills. The book will include an interactive CD-ROM, through which the reader can actually enter the mind of an overcaffeinated, sleep-deprived, ink-stained wretch of a contestant as he or she sorts through claiming races at a dozen different tracks in pursuit of the title "King of the World."

Finally, for the always healthy market in Victorian-style romance, there is "Come Run Through Tall Grass," the story of a third-generation breeding farm owner in central Kentucky who falls upon hard times when he mistakenly sends his prized stallion off to Southern Hemisphere stud duty in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, instead of the state of Victoria, in Australia. Ravaged by debt, he turns to the widowed wife of a wealthy land baron who runs beef cattle and novelty llama on her huge spread in southern Indiana. They lose themselves in each other's eyes, while her lawyers draft an air-tight pre-nup, leaving them free to enjoy a love so forbidden no one dares to speak its name.