10/30/2003 12:00AM

'Roma' wears road warrior label well

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CHICAGO - Burning Roma has shipped from his base at Monmouth Park to start Saturday in the Grade 3 Robert F. Carey Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course.

"So what?" the horse would respond.

He may never have raced in the shadow of stacked shipping containers and an abandoned 70,000-seat auto-racing grandstand, but Burning Roma has been around. Hawthorne is Burning Roma's 13th racing venue, and his $1.3 million bankroll dwarfs the earnings of his 10 Carey opponents.

Now 5, Burning Roma has been a good horse since 2, when he was second (placed first) in the Grade 1 Futurity at Belmont and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The Carey is run at one mile on grass, and Burning Roma has raced just twice on turf, but this horse isn't fussy. Burning Roma has proven effective both sprinting and routing, and he has transferred his dirt ability to grass racing. Burning Roma was second as the favorite Oct. 3 in the $50,000 John Henry at The Meadowlands, but after 14 weeks on the sidelines, Burning Roma had a right to come up short after setting a solid pace. He and jockey Rene Douglas are well drawn Saturday in post 9, from which Burning Roma can press or stalk the pace of McMahon and Mercenary.

The list of viable contenders is lengthy, with several solid horses in from Kentucky and a decent roster of locals. Mystery Giver tops the local contingent, but was beaten on the square in a Keeneland allowance the last time he raced.

"The last time he just got outrun from the eighth pole to the wire," said trainer Chris Block.

Mystery Giver has won over the Hawthorne turf before, but never got untracked in last year's Carey, finishing seventh.

The most dangerous Kentucky horse may be Moonshine Hall, a 3-year-old taking on his elders in his final start of this season. Moonshine Hall already has faced older stakes horses this year, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Atto Mile.

"Every time he made a move in that race he got stopped," said trainer Tony Reinstedler. "All year he's run against top horses, and he hasn't gotten beat by much."

Moonshine Hall looks like a natural miler, and he put in a strong rally when he was beaten a half-length by the good 3-year-old Remind in the Storm Cat Stakes on Oct. 5 at Keeneland.