Virtue is supposed to be rewarded, but the maxim would be difficult to prove by the experience of Vic Miranda.

Miranda, a Hollywood, Fla., insuranceman, owned a racing stable for four years and made money with it, thanks largely to his sharp young trainer, Stanley Hough. But last year, he suddenly decided to sell all his horses.

He felt, in part, that the sport was occupying too much of his time. But he added, "Moral and religious reasons were part of the decision, too. I never cared for the gambling aspect of the game. I enjoyed the horses, the breeding, the mornings at the barns -- but not the gambling in the afternoon. And if you're involved in racing, it's hard to disassociate yourself from that part of the game. I just felt more comfortable selling out."

Miranda told Hough to dispose of all his horses, and the trainer did. He sold, among others, Miranda's half-interest in a colt that the two of them had bought in partnership for $37,000 just a couple of months earlier.

His name was Proud Appeal. Last week, a Kentucky breeder purchased a half-interest in the 3-year-old for $5 million. And on Saturday the colt will go to the post as the favorite in the 107th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Hough could not have guessed that the Proud Appeal transaction was going to alter his life and career. He already was the best trainer in Florida, a shrewd maneuverer of claiming horses, a man Miranda extolled as being "geared to profitability and honesty." But when he sold Miranda's half-interest in Proud Appeal to Malcolm Winfield, he soon was playing in a much-faster league.

Winfield had come from England to America after World War II and supported his family by working as a gandy dancer for the Boston and Maine Railroad: a pick-and-shovel man. But the family left those tough times far behind them when they borrowed $10,000 and went into the airplane-leasing business.

The enterprise started booming after the Winfields sold Elvis Presley a jazzy, custom-made Convair 880. Now, Malcolm's son, Nigel, said, "I buy more planes from Boeing than any individual in the world. I put every plane in Angola for the war."

The Winfields had been racing horse with Hough for two years when they bought Proud Appeal. At the time, the colt had barely started training. But he won his racing debut in Florida in May, prompting Hough to give him an immediate shot at the big time. Proud Appeal went to New York and won two stakes races, after which another owner came to Hough and offered $1.5 million for him.

"Personally, I wanted to sell," the trainer said. "If Vic Miranda had still owned the horse, we would have sold. He enjoyed the action of the business, buying and selling. Like me, he never liked to hang onto them a long time." But the Winfields had other ideas; they believed in letting their profits ride.

"Three-quarters of a million seemed like the world to Stanley at the time," Nigel said, "but I told him, 'No, we have to wait.'" Hough may have agonized over this decision when Proud Appeal hurt his shins in the summer and was knocked out of action for the rest of the year. But the owners' patience would be amply rewarded.

Proud Appeal ran brilliantly in New York this winter, winning four straight races. Moreover, he was doing it an optimal moment in history. With the thoroughbred market booming, breeders were scrambling wildly to buy and syndicate breeding stock. Spendthrift Farm was willing to pay $4 million for a half-interest in Proud Appeal. John Gaines, a prominent breeder, and bakery executive Robert Entemann offered $5 million. So Hough and the Winfields collected $2.5 million each for a colt whose pedigree is mediocre and who at the time had not run farther than a mile. It was a once-in-a-lifetime coup.

Miranda has followed Proud Appeal's career with interest, and without regret.

"I'll be watching the Derby on television Saturday and cheering for Proud Appeal," said the man who let a $10 million thoroughbred slip through his fingers. "If I owned the horse, I thing it would be unreal. I feel very good about the way things have turned out."