02/13/2003 1:00AM

Burning Roma faces plenty of challengers


OLDSMAR Fla. - Take your pick from speed horses, late closers, reformed claimers, and stakes winners on the dirt attempting to revive their careers on turf. Horseplayers can find plenty of angles Saturday when Burning Roma, winner of the Meadowlands Cup and a millionaire, tops a field of 12 in the $100,000 Tampa Bay Downs Breeders' Cup Stakes.

While Burning Roma, the co-highweight at 123 pounds under leading rider Jesus Castanon, will earn a good deal of support at the windows, there are several other intriguing entrants in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Thefull Circle won the Princeton Stakes last fall, one of his four victories on turf. In December, Thefull Circle had a world of trouble in the Pete Axthelm Stakes at Calder, finishing fifth, beaten five lengths, in his first start in six weeks. He then came back in a two-other-than allowance and overcame trouble at the gate and in the stretch to draw off late. Thefull Circle has tactical speed, figures to be sitting just off a contentious pace, and always gives a good effort for trainer Stanley Hough.

First Lieutenant, who won the Salvator Mile on the main track at Monmouth last summer, was beaten just a length in a tough money allowance on the turf at Gulfstream in his first start since October and was just more than two lengths back of Unshaded in his only other turf try, last fall.