09/03/2004 12:00AM

Burning Roma taking final bows

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Burning Roma (right) wins the Red Bank on opening day. He has been beaten twice since then.

The days are dwindling to a precious few for Burning Roma.

A multiple graded stakes winner, heads off to stud at the end of this season, and his trainer, Heather Giglio, figures the 6-year-old has only one or two starts left following Sunday's $60,000 Bob Harding Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Although ungraded, the Harding drew a solid stakes field that includes North East Bound, Foreverness, and Spruce Run for a one-mile run on the turf.

It looks like a competitive race, one that will require a prime effort from Burning Roma.

Burning Roma's last two races were not vintage performances by the winner of the 2000 Grade 1 Futurity at Belmont Park and the 2002 Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup.

After winning the Grade 3 Red Bank Handicap, Monmouth's opening-day feature, Burning Roma ran sixth in the Grade 3 Poker Handicap at Belmont over a "course he did not like," said Giglio.

He followed with a fifth in Monmouth's Grade 3 Oceanport Handicap, losing by only three-quarters of a length, while lacking his usual stretch punch. His Beyer Speed Figures declined from 102 in the Red Bank to 94 in the Oceanport and he'll need to improve to compete in this spot.

Some of other contenders have rung up impressive recent Beyers.

Spruce Run, trained by Linda Rice, has never been better. He earned a career-best Beyer Figure of 97 in winning a division of Monmouth's Elkwood Stakes and followed with a Beyer of 96 for a second-place finish in the West Virginia Speaker's Cup Handicap at Mountaineer Park. Spruce Run won last year's Bob Harding, named for the late turf writer for the Newark Star-Ledger.

Foreverness earned a Beyer of 100 for his runner-up finish in the West Point Handicap for New York-breds at Saratoga. He has experience over the course, running second in a one-mile grass allowance earlier this meet.

No horse in the field can touch North East Bound on back class. The 8-year-old gelding, however, has not won since the 2002 Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park and had lost 14 straight since then.

In his prime, North East Bound was one of the best on turf or dirt. His finest moments came in the fall of 2000 when he captured the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup on the main track and was beaten by War Chant in the final jump of the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile on the grass at Churchill Downs.

Continental full of possibilities

Some have never won. Few have ventured around two turns. Most have never been on the grass.

All those elements combine to make the $55,000 Continental Mile for 2-year-olds at one-mile on the turf a wide-open scramble.

Feverish Affair has the advantage of a route win at the meet, although on the main track.

Todd Pletcher will try to overwhelm the competition with sheer numbers. Saratoga's leading trainer entered three in the race: Arcturus, Copyco and Dubleo.