01/22/2004 1:00AM

Like Royally Chosen, really like Silver Tree


Sample four races on any given day, and a horseplayer might find a couple races he loathes and a couple he loves. The four Sunshine Millions stakes races at Gulfstream Park on Saturday fit that profile for me.

The first stakes of the day, the John Deere Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, is a race I care more about watching than wagering on. The reason is Silent Sighs. She is a well-known talent, and will likely start at odds of 2-5 or less. Aside from using her in a pick three or a pick four, her odds are too short to play her.

I am excited about watching her compete. Her races in California late last year were striking. After winning her maiden easily, she gamely held second in the Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies in her first stakes try, and later won the filly division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes by three lengths with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

Yearly Report, the runner-up to her that day, came back to win the Grade 3 Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita Jan. 19, also running a 105 Beyer.

Silent Sighs faces no such opposition in the six-furlong Oaks. All but one of her five opponents come off losses of 14 lengths or more, and the lone exception, Wacky Patty, comes off a five-furlong stakes win at Delta Downs.

The FedEx Sprint, a six-furlong race for older horses, follows the Oaks, and while the contenders run somewhat deeper, the field is again short.

Shake You Down, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, is a deserving favorite. Aside from being untested over the Gulfstream Park strip, he has few apparent weaknesses.

I'm somewhat intrigued by Valid Video, although I am not convinced he is better than Shake You Down. But his price will certainly be better.

Valid Video has not raced since finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Sprint Oct. 25. Time on the sidelines has not presented problems for him in the past. He is 4-1-0 in six starts when given 45 days or more between races, and his top Beyer, a 110, came following a break.

A classy horse, he won the Grade 1 King's Bishop last year and the Grade 3 Carry Back over Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cajun Beat. He also has extensive winter experience in Florida, which includes a win in one of the Sunshine Millions races at Gulfstream in 2003.

The media focus will be on Pesci in the next race, the Vessels Stallion Farm Distaff for fillies and mares. Owned in part by Academy Award-winning actor Joe Pesci, she is an exciting filly.

She will likely be terribly overbet. Because of her owner and the ease of her two victories, she has received only slightly less ink in racing publications than Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have in the tabloids. That will drive her price below what is acceptable on a horse coming off an entry-level allowance victory, no matter how talented she is.

Some of the horses she faces Saturday are graded stakes winners, and all have significantly more experience. Not one of her opponents has raced fewer than 11 times.

I would not play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl if they had played only two games and if Carolina had played 11. I won't play Pesci, either. I plan a three-horse exacta box of House Party, Smok'n Frolic, and my top choice - Royally Chosen.

The last of the four Gulfstream stakes races is the Barretts/CTBA Turf, a $500,000 stakes at a 1 1/8 miles on grass. I love a horse in here: Silver Tree.

Now a 4-year-old, he comes off a productive 2003 campaign that may be slightly overlooked by bettors because all six of his races came against strictly 3-year-olds last year.

I like that he was close fourth last out in the Hollywood Derby, which is consistently one of this country's best turf races - even if it is limited to 3-year-olds. With a $600,000 purse, it draws large fields with a good cross-section of West Coast, East Coast, and European runners.

It matters little to me that Silver Tree has yet to win a graded stakes race. In July he won the $500,000 Virginia Derby, a race that was upgraded to Grade 3 status for 2004, and he beat eventual Grade 1 Secretariat winner Kicken Kris that day.

Perfect in two starts at Gulfstream, he benefits from catching one of his main opponents, Man From Wicklow, returning from a layoff dating back to April.