10/16/2001 11:00PM

Burning Roma, money player

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Pegasus Handicap has a history of showcasing the season's best 3-year-olds and rewarding the season's late-bloomers. The 21st running Friday night at The Meadowlands is shaping up the same way.

His spots chosen carefully, Burning Roma has turned in a lucrative campaign for trainer Anthony Dutrow. Friday night he will be the leader and the rest of the six-horse field will have to challenge to win the Grade 2, $250,000 race at 1 1/8 miles. Late-bloomers Volponi and Bowman's Band figure are the new faces hoping to emerge.

Burning Roma comes into the race with a 5-for-8 season and hasn't missed the board yet this year. He challenged Point Given in the stretch of the Haskell at Monmouth, missing by just a half-length. He kept his in-the-money streak alive behind Express Tour's victory in the Jerome Handicap at Belmont last time.

"We have had a very realistic campaign mapped out this year," said Dutrow, adding that he and Burning Roma's owner, Harold Queen, "are very pleased with his accomplishments because he runs so hard and seldom disappoints. We always had this race and the Jerome planned after the Haskell."

Dutrow had hoped to take advantage of Burning Roma's reputation to scare away competition from the Indiana Derby on Oct. 6 at Hoosier Park for entrymate Saratoga Games. Burning Roma never left home and Saratoga Games finished second.

While Burning Roma's reputation proceeds him, Bowman's Band will look to develop one. A John Kimmel trainee, he is making just his fourth career start after getting his third consecutive victory here Sept. 22 in the Summing Stakes.

"We took him over there thinking that we might want to try him in the Pegasus and so a trip over the track would be a good idea," said Kimmel.

"It was a foggy night and the lights right by the wire were very bright," the trainer said. Jockey Richard Migliore, according to Kimmel, "said he kind of came off the bridle when he got that in his face, so it really looks like the smart thing to get him that experience."

Volponi has taken on big names since winning his maiden in the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes as a 2-year-old, but has finished off the board in four stakes starts since, including a seventh-place finish to Point Given in the Travers. He won an allowance race Oct. 6 at Belmont for trainer P.G. Johnson.

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