02/14/2004 12:00AM

Burning Roma holds on

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OLDSMAR Fla. - Burning Roma stalked a blistering early pace, forged to the front out of the final turn, then held off a strong late challenge from favored Remind to hit the wire with a neck to spare for his second straight victory in the Tampa Bay Downs Breeders' Cup Stakes.

Under jockey Jesus Castanon, Burning Roma was content to sit behind the first flight as a three-horse speed duel produced an opening half-mile in 46.13 seconds and a six-furlong clocking of 1:10.27 over a course that was listed as firm but a bit wet from afternoon showers.

Then, swinging out of the turn, Castanon swung three wide, quickly disposed of tiring pacesetters Above the Wind and Milky Way Guy, and opened a clear lead with a furlong remaining. Remind, under Brice Blanc, swung to the middle of the track and mounted a strong late rally outside the winner but just fell short, finishing 2 1/2 lengths ahead of the of 27-1 shot Native Hawk.

The final time for the 1 1/16 miles was a very good 1:41.68

Burning Roma, who made his career turf debut last season with a win in this same race, returned a generous $8.80, notching his 12th win from 30 lifetime starts. The $60,000 winner's share of the feature ran his career earnings to $1,195,537.