Burning Roma began his 3-year-old season by taking the Florida route to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), but not by way of the traditional starting points at Gulfstream Park. The grade I-winning son of Rubiano instead began at Tampa Bay Downs and won both his starts -- the $50,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on March 3 and the $200,000 Tampa Bay Derby two weekends later. There hasn't been a Tampa Bay Derby winner to capture the Run for the Roses, but just last year, Wheelaway parlayed his Tampa Bay Derby triumph into a fifth-place finish in the feature race at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May. Burning Roma's owner, Harold Queen, is hoping his colt can improve on that performance. Same goes for Burning Roma's breeder, William S. Farish Jr., and trainer, Anthony Dutrow.
In addition to winning both his starts this year, Burning Roma excelled as a 2-year-old, winning his first three races and finishing fourth in the other two, so there's no reason to worry about the Apollo factor. Apollo was the last horse to win the Derby after not having started as a 2-year-old. That was 120 years ago. Better yet, Burning Roma has shown a penchant for coming from behind. That might prove a big factor once he hits the quarter pole and sees the finish line 1,234 feet ahead of him.
Burning Roma not only won at two, but won big. Starting out at Laurel, he captured his debut by 8 1/4 lengths, then took the Prince George Park Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths. After that, it was on to Belmont Park to take on pro tem leader City Zip in the historic Futurity Stakes (gr. I). After a rough start, Burning Roma got down to running and didn't stop until City Zip interfered with his progress near the wire. Burning Roma finished a nose behind City Zip, who was disqualified and placed second. After that, it was on to Kentucky, with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) the main objective.
A grandson of Fappiano, Burning Roma ran fourth at 2-1 odds in the Lane's End Farm Breeders' Futurity (gr. II) at Keeneland, then finished fourth at 41-1 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill. In the latter event, he raced last of 14 for the first part of the 1 1/16-mile race, but came on to finish only two lengths behind winner Macho Uno. It was that kind of performance that had his fans looking sixth months ahead to Churchill.
Burning Roma was weighted at 121 pounds, the same as City Zip, on the 2000 Experimental Free Handicap for males, five pounds below highweight and champion Macho Uno. There were four other juveniles between the pair of Burning Roma and City Zip and the highweight.
Burning Roma's sire line has packed a potent punch in recent Derby history. Since 1990, there have been five Derby winners tracing in male line to Burning Roma's great-grandsire, Mr. Prospector. Three of them -- Grindstone, Real Quiet, and Unbridled -- go back to Fappiano. Last year's Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus, is by Mr. Prospector.
Burning Roma is the fourth foal produced from While Rome Burns (by Overskate), and only the second winner. His next two dams, graded stakes producers Fiddlesticks and Discipline, are by prominent broodmare sires. Fiddlesticks is by Northern Dancer, and Discipline is a daughter of Princequillo. Burning Roma also carries another presence of Northern Dancer in his pedigree. Rubiano's dam, Ruby Slippers, is a Northern Dancer granddaughter.
Burning Roma stacks up as a Derby contender by way of the dual qualifier system. Dual qualifiers are those horses weighted within 10 pounds of the male topweight on the Experimental and also have the proper dosage figure to win the Derby. Dosage factors in the presence and position(s) of chef-de-race stallions in a pedigree. Horses with a DI higher than 4.00 and a CD higher than 1.25 are considered genetically unlikely to win the Run for the Roses.
Burning Roma carries a Dosage Index of 2.58 and a Center of Distribution of 0.74. His DI and CD are figured from his Dosage Profile of 10-8-13-3-0.