Before today's Hopeful Stakes, Out of Hock had already proved he was the fastest 2-year-old in America. But he had not yet proved he had character.

The gelding had won four straight races in New Jersey by a total of 34 lengths, but he had never been challenged in them. Now he was facing another speedball who was going to press him early and force him to show whether he was geniune or counterfeit.

Now we know. He's counterfeit.

After being forced to contend with a blistering early pace, Out of Hock weakened badly in the stretch and lost by 4 1/4 lengths to a former $30,000 claiming horse named Timely Writer. The result suggested irrevocably that there is still not a top-quality horse in the 2-year-old ranks this year and that the Hopeful, which has produced so many great champsion in the past, didn't do so this year.

Trainer Stanley Rieser, knew -- as did even casual students of the Racing Form -- that Out of Hock was not going to coast to the lead here as he had been doing at Monmouth, not with a chestnut streak of lightning named Mayanesian in the field. Nobody had been able to get in front of Mayanesian for the first half mile of any of his races and, Rieser acknowledged, "This is the moment of truth."

Mayanesian proceeded to do what comes naturally, bursting out of the gate and covering the first quarter mile in 22 1/5 seconds. Out of Hock was a length or so behind; a couple times jockey Don Brumfield tried to ask him for an extra bit of acceleration but he couldn't get past the leader.

After he had whizzed a half mile in 44 4/5, Mayanesian did the other thing that comes naturally to him: he collapsed. Out of Hock inherited the lead, but the stretch-runners in the field were just beginning to get in gear. Timely Writer swung to the outside and blew past him in mid-stretch. After that, jockey Roger Danjean said, "He drew away with every jump." Lejoli, who had broken several lengths behind the field, rallied to finish third.

Timely Writer paid $15, $5.20 and $3.60. Out of Hock returned $3.20 and $2.40, and Lejoli paid $2.80 to show.

The winner, who is based in New England, had started his career by winning a maiden claiming race, then captured a stake at Suffolk Downs. Three weeks ago, in his first venture to the big time, he finished third in a stakes race here. If he ever hopes to duplicate a triumph of today's magnitude, he had better bring Out of Hock and Mayanesian along to set the race up for him.