Deputy Minister last month was voted as the champion 2-year-old in America. He was named the horse of the year in his native Canada, where he is something of a national hero. Last week stockbroker Robert Brennan paid a reported $6 million for a half-interest in the colt, making him the most valuable as well as the most honored member of his generation.

But on Wednesday afternoon Deputy Minister will have to stop resting on his laurels and launch his 3-year-old campaign in the Bahamas Stakes at Hialeah. And this campaign is likely to reveal that he was one of the most overrated, undeserving horses ever to win an Eclipse Award.

Deputy Minister won eight of his nine races as a 2-year-old, a record that looks impressive until it is subjected to some scrutiny. The colt won the first six races of his career, but five of those victories came against nonentities in Canada; the other was a minor stakes against nonentities in New York.

An illness knocked Deputy Minister out of competition until the fall, when he returned to New York for the Champagne Stakes. In the event which traditionally determines the 2-year-old champion, he was soundly beaten, finishing eight lengths behind Timely Writer. Trainer John Tammaro rationalized that this result wasn't a true bill, that because of his absence from competition Deputy Minister wasn't completely fit.

Two weeks later Deputy Minister faced a weak field in the Laurel Futurity, and scored a nose victory over Laser Light, a colt who had raced only once in his career. Then he completed his championship season by winning another rich stake at the Meadowlands, with Laser Light second again (Laser Light subsequently went to California and lost a stake there by 20 lengths).

Deputy Minister never had run exceptionally fast. He had beaten few if any horses of proved quality. While his eight-for-nine record may have deceived the Eclipse Award voters and Robert Brennan, his reputation won't do him any good in Florida this winter.

The ranks of 3-year-olds here are the deepest and strongest in years. While the horses who contested last year's major 2-year-old stakes were rightly considered a weak crop, a number of youngsters showed ability late in the year to suggest that they can be major contenders in the Triple Crown series. Racing fans may not have heard much yet about Star Gallant, Crafty Prospector and D'Accord, but they soon will.

Two weeks ago Hialeah presented its first 3-year-old stakes of the season, a minor $20,000 event for Florida-breds, but the result verified the high quality of the Derby-age colts here. Distinctive Pro won it by two lengths, racing six furlongs in a sensational 1:08 3/5, equaling the track record. It was his third straight victory, and the colt has been improving with every start.

Tammaro might have anticipated that the Bahamas Stakes would be a relatively soft spot for Deputy Minister, but his champion never has run a race as big as Distinctive Pro did. Two of the colts who chased Distinctive Pro that day, Rex's Profile and Marshaller, ran well enough in defeat to suggest that they could win on Wednesday.

Tammaro exudes confidence in the face of this competition. "Deputy Minister has had long, hard work and he's fit," he said. "He's the horse to beat. I know one thing. I wouldn't trade places with any other trainer with a 3-year-old."

Tammaro may have a long, disillusioning year ahead of him.