01/30/2003 1:00AM

Sunshine pick fours soothed winter's chill


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - This is the absolute dead of winter. It's been so cold for so long, that Aqueduct railbirds can scarcely remember the last time it was nice enough to actually watch a race outside.

And with at least five more weeks of racing left on the inner track - more, if it doesn't warm up enough to thaw out the main track in time for the scheduled re-opening on March 12 - this is a portion of the New York schedule when it can be a struggle to discuss things that will still be relevant when spring finally arrives.

That's why last week's Sunshine Millions was such a welcome respite from the usual routine. Even if we New Yorkers were only watching on television, at least it looked nice and warm out there at Santa Anita. And for all the talk about last week's cold snap in Florida, the temperature was 66 degrees at Gulfstream Park last Saturday.

To be sure, Sunshine Millions will need some modifications (horseplayers could care less that Florida "beat" California, so why not open up the races to all comers?). But even if the Millions races were only restricted stakes, hearing all those familiar big-day voices from the NBC-TV crew, along with the rapid-fire procession of the races, made it feel like something more than just the day before the Super Bowl.

The races were competitive East and West, and there was value in the pick four at each track.

At Gulfstream, a pick four consisting of two favorites and two second choices, Madame Pietra ($4.40), Best of the Rest ($9), Valid Video ($7.40), and Stay Forever ($9.20), returned $330 for $1, or nearly twice the parlay.

Santa Anita's pick four began with fifth choice Adminniestrator ($20) in the Turf, and that was a race where value-conscious bettors were practically obliged to spread out in an attempt to beat Forbidden Apple, the 5-2 favorite who was getting one last hurrah before retirement. After that came two second choices and a favorite, Atlantic Ocean ($7.80), Captain Squire ($9), and Smok'n Frolic ($5.60), resulting in a $1 pick four of $683 that offered roughly a 50 percent bonus on the parlay.

The second annual Sunshine Millions should only be better. And who knows, maybe other circuits will organize similar event days next winter: How about SnowFest North, pitting New York-breds against New Jersey-breds in a statebred skirmish, complete with cheerleaders?

Delaware shippers update

I've been keeping tabs on freshened Delaware Park shippers at Gulfstream, and as mentioned last month, the results have been a bit below expectations so far, with the exception of the Mike Gill-Mark Shuman juggernaut.

From opening day through Jan. 26, horses with a last-race line from Delaware finished first in 8 of 45 attempts, including one disqualification. A $2 investment returned just $71 of a $90 outlay for a $19 loss.

Shuman saddled seven of the eight winners that fit the profile, but the biggest-priced winner, Western Halo ($19.20), was trained by A. Ferris Allen III.

Exacta players should note that several others finished second, including 15-1 shots Clever Crawford (Jan. 10) and Hollor Back (Jan. 19) in claiming races.

Clever Crawford completed a $43 exacta behind an even-money winner, and Hollor Back finished behind a 3-1 winner, resulting in an $87 exacta.