Harold Queen's Burning Roma heads a field of 12 in today's Tampa Bay Derby.
The pinhooker's nightmare is becoming the owner's dream.
But Harold Queen's dream is tempered by reason.
When the 65-year-old Clearwater resident purchased Burning Roma at the fall Ocala Breeders' Sales auction in 1999, he had every intention of doing what is known as pinhooking: have an associate break the yearling, then sell it as a 2-year-old.
Queen, who purchased the son of Rubiano for $90,000, put him in the Fasig-Tipton sale at Calder in February 2000, but no bidder came close to his preferred price of $150,000. Queen ended up buying back the colt for $40,000 and sending him to Maryland for friend Tony Dutrow to train.
"The day before the sale, they work the horses," Queen said, "and he was fast, but he was scrambling. He was running hard, but his legs were going all over the place and it hurt him in the sale. So I bid him back."
Burning Roma won three times in five starts as a 2-year-old, including the Grade I, $200,000 Futurity Sept. 17 at Belmont Park when he was bumped and nosed out by City Zip but was awarded the win on a disqualification. The smallish colt got another rough trip at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but finished fourth, only 2 lengths behind winner Macho Uno and runner-up Point Given. Burning Roma has four wins and $262,000 in earnings in six starts, making up for that auction shortfall nicely.
"He's a runner," said Dominic Giglio, a longtime exercise rider for Queen and husband of Heather Giglio, who took over training duties when the colt was moved to Tampa Bay Downs for the winter. "You have to have good racing luck. The two races he got beat in, he had an excuse both times."
Burning Roma enters today's Tampa Bay Derby as the morning-line favorite, coupled with stablemate Cielo's Honour, and perhaps is a victory away from entering the Triple Crown chase. Perhaps.
Queen, who has raised and raced 16 stakes winners in his native Ohio, admits this is the horse of his life, but he insists he is not obsessed with winning the roses. He likely won't consider Burning Roma for the Kentucky Derby no matter what happens today.
"It's not that important to me to run in the Kentucky Derby," said Queen, staring out the door of a small room in his corner of Barn 21. "Nothing was more disappointing than to go down to the Breeders' Cup race, get in the hole and have it not work out. That wasn't very exciting. A lot of people would be happy with that, but that doesn't matter to me. The horse matters."
Credit Queen with some benevolence toward his colt, but don't discount his business sense.
"As an owner you have to keep a horse running into their fourth year," he said. "You get a nice horse like this, you really want to keep him running. If you crank him down so far to get him ready for a mile and a quarter in the first Saturday in May, you may not have any horse left after that.
"Hopefully, we can run him at the end of the year if he wins some stakes races, maybe (in the Breeders' Cup Classic). I'd much rather have a shot at the end of the year than take the chance in the Kentucky Derby."
Queen hopes to run the colt in the Wood Memorial or the Blue Grass Stakes and eventually the Preakness if he comes out of today's race sound.
Tampa Bay Derby and Grade III Florida Oaks
POST TIMES: The Oaks is at 4:57 p.m., followed by the Derby at 5:27. The track opens at 10:30 a.m.; the first post is at noon.
WHERE: Tampa Bay Downs, Oldsmar.
DERBY NOTES: Burning Roma, the winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes, and Cielo's Honour will run as an entry. Look for top challengers in Mongoose, Free of Love and Me and Thee. The colts Menifee and Wheelaway in the past two years have gone from the Tampa Bay Derby to Triple Crown contention. The $200,000 race still is not in the elite class of Kentucky Derby preps, but it has improved. Also on the card is the Hillsborough Stakes, for older fillies and mares on the turf. Post time is 4:27 p.m.
TAMPA BAY DERBY
American Prince 5-1
Free of Love 6-1
Me and Thee 19-1
Cielo's Honour 5-2
Tour of the Cat 15-1
Date More Minors 12-1
Phone Ruler 12-1
Burning Roma 5-2
Talking Red 10-1
Ellis Island 30-1
OAKS NOTES: The track's only graded stakes was the launching pad for Secret Status, who went from an Oaks win to victories in the Kentucky Oaks and the Mother Goose last year. Will Farish and Neil Howard became the first owner/trainer tandem to win the Tampa Bay Derby and the Florida Oaks, which will give them instant credibility with Quick Tip. Expect lightly raced Courageous Maiden to get a lot of attention in the $150,000 race, coming out of Elliott Walden's barn and ridden by Pat Day.
Rich Peace 12-1
Morning Sun 3-1
Classy Place 7-2
Quick Tip 10-1
Emery Board 8-1
Courageous Maiden 4-1
Southern Fiction 9-2
_ Compiled by Brant James.
+-Entries are in post position order.