Before today, Pleasant Colonly already had won plenty of money and fame and a probable championship. But he still lacked respect as a top-class racehorse.

Today he got it. He ran away from eight of the best older horses in American in the $229,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park and proved that he is a lot more than the best member of an unexceptional generation of 3-year-olds.

Pleasant Colony took command of this prestigious race with the powerful move on the final turn that has been his trademark all season. He drew away through the stretch to score a 1 3/4-length victory over the formidable 4-year-old, Amber Pass.

Even trainer John Campo had refused to make his customary prediction of victory before the Woodward, knowing that the transition from 3-year old races to open competition is difficult for any horse.

But from the instant the gate opened today, Pleasant Colony look formidable.

"He amazd me," jockey Angel Cordero Jr. said. The rider, who replaced Jorge Valasquez after the Triple Crown series, knew that Pleasant Colony usually is a sluggish-breaking animal. But not today. "When they broke, I was going oh-oh-oh," Cordero said. "He was a handful of horse."

Cordero restrained Pleasant Colony while Amber Pass and Fio Rito went out to battle for the early lead, as expected. But he was not any 20 lengths behind today as he was in the Kentucky Derby. He was racing fourth or fifth down the back stretch, in perfect striking position.

Amber Pass disposed of Fio Rito after speeding threee-quarters of a mile in 1:09 4/5 and opened a clear lead. But the Maryland-based colt looked like a winner for only an instant -- until Pleasant Colony started to accelerate on the turn, just as he had done to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. As he made his move, Cordero said, "I went oh-oh again."

Pleasant Colony surged past Amber Pass' closest pursures, caught the leader in midstretch and drew out with authority, covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 1/5.

The favorite paid $5.80, $4 and $3.20. Amber Pass returned $5 and $4 and Herb Water paid $5.80 to show. The mare Relaxing finished fourth and Temperence Hill, the 3-year-old champion of last season, was fifth.

After the victory, Campo was back to his old blustery self. "This horse should never been beaten in the Belmont, should never been beat in the Travers. Anybody that knows anything about racing knows he's got to be a good horse."

Campo's horse will have many further chances to prove how good he is. Two weeks from today he will run in the $400,000 Marlboro Cup.