n a year when many top 3-year-olds have come from humble origins, none has come so far as Victorian Line.

Last spring, the ill-bred colt was running in a $25,000 claiming race at Hialeah. Saturday, he will return to the same track, but this time he will be the favorite in the $66,650 Everglades Stakes, one of the important early season prep races that lead to the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Newcomb Green had no grandiose expectations when he claimed Victorian Line. But when he equipped the colt with blinkers and changed his shoes, Victorian Line started acting like a new animal. In the fall, he emerged as the best of the Florida-based 3-year-olds, winning three consecutive stakes races. Most recently, he ran away with the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby by 10 lengths.

"He was always a determined type of horse," Green said. "He always seemed to be getting into a small amount of trouble but he kept on trying. Now he's definitely the best horse I've ever had and we still don't know how good he will be."

Despite Green's optimism, there is reason to believe Victorian Line's best performances may be behind him. Saturday's race should show whether he does, indeed, have a future against top 3-year-old company.

Victorian Line's triumphs all came at Calder Race Course, which was extraordinarily speed-favoring all season. Many speedballs like Victorian Line looked invincible there, then performed disappointingly at Hialeah. The notion that Victorian Line might have been one of the proverbial "horses for courses" was supported when he went to New York for the Champagne Stakes and lost by 17 lengths.

Although most of the big-name 3-year-olds at Hialeah have chosen to bypass the Everglades, Victorian Line will have to be a legitimate racehorse to beat his principal rival, Crafty Prospector.

After winning two of his three starts as a 2-year-old, Crafty Prospector made his 3-year-old debut here on a day last month when the Hialeah track was extraordinarily speed-favoring. The winner, Distinctive Pro, led all the way and equaled the track record for six furlongs, but Crafty Prospector managed to rally and lose by only 3 1/2 lengths.