07/16/2001 12:00AM

Burning Roma sizzles in Long Branch


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Burning Roma displayed why he should be considered among the top 3-year-olds by posting a convincing 1 1/4-length victory in Sunday's $100,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Up next for Burning Roma, a winner of five of six starts this year, could be a meeting with division leader Point Given in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on Aug. 5 at Monmouth.

Burning Roma, trained by Anthony Dutrow and owned by Harold Queen defeated This Fleet Is Due and Thunder Blitz in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch, the prep for the Haskell, before a crowd of 15,596 in 1:43.28.

"Right now the Haskell is our number one race," trainer Anthony Dutrow said. "We'll look at some others like the West Virginia Derby and the Jim Dandy, but the Haskell is a lot of money and that's the race we're focusing on. He shouldn't have any problem going further, mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter."

If any doubters existed heading into the Long Branch, Burning Roma, the even-money favorite, silenced them. Although Burning Roma did not participate in the Triple Crown and had not competed against the best of his generation this year, he encountered the toughest field of his 3-year-old season to date. Burning Roma improved to 8-0-1 in eleven career starts.

Ridden confidently by regular rider Rick Wilson, Burning Roma broke near the back of the pack, but quickly challenged for the lead. He pounced on leader Max Jones before the far turn, and opened up a clear lead to sprint home by 1 1/4 lengths over a late-running This Fleet Is Due, who came from last to take second. Second-choice Thunder Blitz, fourth in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Belmont Stakes, finished 1 1/2 lengths back in third along the rail. The remaining finishers were Dayton Flyer, Game Effort, Junior Deputy and Max Jones.

"When I asked him for his run, he took right off," said Wilson. "He just keeps getting better. When we got him back from Florida, he kept running his race before the race. Now we've got him to settle down and relax."