Tampa Bay Report: A TKO For Burning Roma

Published in the March 24 issue of The Blood-Horse
You could call Burning Roma's victory in the Tampa Bay Derby a TKO, since the horse considered his toughest challenger, the Bill Mott-trained Mongoose, was prevented from running on a technicality. On the other hand, odds-on Burning Roma took the $200,000 stakes with such style and ease that Mongoose's presence in the field might not have mattered.

Burning Roma, a son of Rubiano bred in Kentucky by William S. Farish's son Bill, is the best horse ever owned by Harold Queen during some 40 years in racing. His ownership of the colt was an accident of sorts. Queen purchased the colt to pinhook, but held onto him when buyers refused to pay a high enough price.

"I pinhook a lot," Queen said. "I bought him for $90,000 and put him in the Fasig-Tipton sale a year ago this past February, and he brought $40,000, and I bid him back in."

Although he owns Hal Queen Farm in Ohio, where he keeps his broodmares, Queen is a resident of Clearwater, Fla., and a fixture at nearby Tampa Bay Downs, which is why Burning Roma began his 3-year-old campaign at the track on the bay. The colt made a name for himself last year at two, when he was awarded victory in the grade I Futurity at Belmont Park on a disqualification and two races later ran a creditable fourth (at 41-1) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

At season's end, however, the name Burning Roma was not on many short lists of potential 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners. His two races this year at Tampa Bay may have altered that perception.

Shipped to Tampa in January, Burning Roma came under the care of Heather Giglio, a trainer with seven years' experience whose husband, former jockey Dominick Giglio, exercises her horses and was on Burning Roma for all his workouts leading to the Tampa Bay Derby.

Heather Giglio won her first stakes last October, taking the Best of Ohio Juvenile Fillies with Queen's homebred Across the Creek. Her next two stakes wins came at Tampa Bay with Burning Roma.

Burning Roma made his 3-year-old debut in the March 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a $50,000 prep for the Tampa Bay Derby. He came from well behind the pace to take the lead at the top of the stretch and hold it to the wire, defeating American Prince by a length in a respectable 1:45.20 for 1 1/16 miles.

Mongoose, the pre-race second choice and possible favorite in many eyes, had won the $200,000 Cradle Stakes last fall at River Downs and was considered trainer Bill Mott's best hope for Kentucky Derby glory this year. But the Broad Brush colt, whom Mott trains for owners Gary and Mary West, was ordered scratched by Tampa Bay Downs stewards midway through the Saturday program when it was discovered his registration papers were absent.

Mott, who did not accompany the colt to Tampa Bay, offered to fax the papers, but that proposal was rejected. Stewards Art Pedregal, Charles Miranda, and Dennis Lima were unanimous in their decision, saying as a group that they "never, never" accept faxed papers.

With Mongoose, who had shown front-running tendencies, out of the picture, the role of pacesetter fell to Tour of the Cat, a 71-1 shot with only a maiden win at two to his credit. Surprisingly, the Tour d'Or colt did a fine job, setting moderate fractions (:23.29, :47.67) until he was passed by Burning Roma after six furlongs in 1:11.96.

The winner, who broke well from post nine in the 11-horse field, settled comfortably in midpack through the early going under Richard Migliore, a New York rider who in the previous race had won the grade III Florida Oaks (Tampa Bay's only graded stakes) aboard Quick Tip, a Farish homebred.

After the Tampa Bay Derby, Migliore said he had to encourage Burning Roma at the start. "He was so relaxed going down the backside, I felt honestly like I had the race in hand already because I had so much horse," Migliore said. "I eased him out in the clear to give myself options, and as soon as he saw some daylight, he dragged me up to the leaders."

Burning Roma was four horses wide into the far turn, but Migliore said he was "just galloping" at that point.

"As we turned for home, I straightened him up and he put it in another gear and went on," the rider said.

Burning Roma was 1 1/2 lengths in front at the top of the stretch and he extended his margin through the lane, winning by 2 3/4 lengths. American Prince, who had stalked the early pace, had enough left for second, followed by 56-l Paging and Tour of the Cat.

Burning Roma became the shortest-priced Tampa Bay Derby winner in history. His winning time, 1:44.30, was 1.10 seconds off the track record and .90 seconds slower than the stakes record, shared by last year's winner, Wheelaway, and three other Tampa Bay Derby winners.

With Mongoose remaining in the barn, the natural question surrounding Burning Roma's Tampa Bay Derby victory is: Who did he beat? It's a fair question, but he seems more capable at this point than were Menifee or Wheelaway, two Tampa Bay Derby startesrs whose efforts in the Kentucky Derby (second and fourth, respectively) made the Tampa Bay race a serious stop on the road to the first Saturday in May.

Migliore, who rode Wheelaway to victory in last year's Tampa Bay Derby, agreed.

"I learned a lot about him today," the rider said of Burning Roma, "and I know one thing for certain: He's a serious kind of horse. Burning Roma is very legitimate and has more experience already than Wheelaway. Having ridden him once now, I feel I would ride him a lot different and better next time."

Migliore expressed those opinions to owner Queen, no doubt hoping he will retain the mount through the Triple Crown. Queen said Burning Roma will be shipped to trainer Anthony Dutrow in Maryland, with the Wood Memorial (gr. II) or Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) as his next potential start.

Timely Substitution

Migliore followed Jorge Guerra (1996) and Pat Day (1998) as the third rider to win the Tampa Bay Derby and Florida Oaks on the same card.

"If I could pull off the same double in Kentucky in about seven weeks, I'd be very happy," he said about the possibility of a Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Derby double with Quick Tip and Burning Roma.

Unfortunately for Migliore, Day apparently has first call on Quick Tip. He rode the Unaccounted For filly in four of her five starts prior to the Florida Oaks, including her maiden win on Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. He took off Quick Tip in the Florida Oaks in favor of the Walden-trained Courageous Maiden, who finished fifth as the 9-5 favorite.

"In addition to his riding skills, Richard is a real gentleman and an excellent businessman," trainer Neil Howard said of Migliore. "I didn't have Pat (for the Florida Oaks) and Richard was going to be here, so I talked to Richard and his agent...They knew Pat would probably ride her back. Pat's our rider. It's just like if the shoe was on the other foot. It's not definite, but I'm sure if something happened down the road, we'd go to Richard."

Howard shipped Quick Tip to Tampa Bay a week before the Florida Oaks, feeling the time there would benefit the filly. The 4-1 third choice in the nine-horse field, Quick Tip and Migliore held off the game Brocco filly Southern Fiction for a half-length triumph. She took the $90,000 first prize in 1:45.36 for the 1 1/16 miles.

After the race, Howard asked Migliore if he thought Quick Tip could handle the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Kentucky Oaks.

"She's bred for it, and he said probably so," Howard related. "I was just curious about what he thought. He said the only thing he would do differently was not make the lead so soon."

As for Quick Tip's future, Howard said he would return the filly to Churchill and consult with the owner.

(Chart, Equibase)