All year, trainer Henry Clark has insisted that he would not run his colt Linkage in the Kentucky Derby. Even after the Derby favorite, Timely Writer, was operated on this week, Clark's resolve wavered only slightly.

But tonight the 77-year-old Marylander is reassessing his position, for he learned this afternoon that Linkage may well be the most talented member of his equine generation. His brilliant victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland ensured that he would be the favorite if he runs at Churchill Downs a week from Saturday.

Not only did Linkage defeat his closest opponent by 5 1/2 lengths, he ran a mile and one-eighth in 1:48 without undo urging by jockey Bill Shoemaker. That time, three-fifths of a second off the track record, was much faster than Spectacular Bid's victory in the Blue Grass, much faster than Alydar's, much faster than Riva Ridge's. From the point of view of speed handicappers, it was much faster than any 3-year-old in the United States ever has run, including Timely Writer.

No one could have anticipated this day's events. In fact, most experts agreed that this was one of the weakest fields ever assembed for the prep race that has produced seven Derby winners in the last 18 years. Even though Linkage had compiled an admirable record--seven victories and two seconds in nine races--he was hard to evaluate because he had done all of his serious running in Louisiana this winter against opposition of uncertain quality.

He is not hard to evaluate now.

Linkage broke alertly today, but Shoemaker immediately took tight hold of the reins. "I had wanted to be sitting third or fourth," he said, "but there was no pace in the race." So Linkage loped along outside 62-to-1 Deep Freeze for a half-mile, while Wavering Monarch, a precocious colt making only his third start, sat behind the leaders.

After he had gone a half-mile in a moderate 46 3/5 seconds, Linkage began to accelerate, reaching the six-furlong mark in a swift 1:10. Wavering Monarch took up the chase and was trying hard, but Linkage toyed with him and drew away through the stretch. Gato del Sol, the California invader, rallied on the inside to finish second, but he was not gaining on the leader.

Linkage earned $127,773 for owner Jane Dupont Lunger, and paid his backers $3.80, $2.40 and $2.20. Gato del Sol returned $3.20 and $2.60 and Wavering Monarch paid $2.80 to show.

Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode Gato del Sol, pointed out correctly that everything was in Linkage's favor today. "When you let a horse of that caliber go that slow early, he's awfully tough to catch," the jockey said. That's true. But given those favorable circumstances, there is probably not a 3-year-old anywhere who could have done what Linkage did today.

While Clark had expressed doubts earlier in the week about Linkage's ability to handle the Derby distance, the colt should have erased them. "The way he ran," Shoemaker said, "he acted like another eighth of a mile wouldn't bother him."

But will he have the chance to prove it?

Clark never has cared much for the whooptedoo that surrounds the Derby. Because of his Maryland roots, he always has been more interested in winning the Preakness. He wasn't kidding this winter when he ruled out the Derby: Linkage's owner has booked a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II that sails April 28.

Both Clark and Lunger seem immune to the obsession with the Derby that rules the decisions of most owners and trainers. They are genuinely undecided about what to do.

"I won't know until tomorrow," Clark said. "This was not that easy a race for him. I'll see how he comes out of it, whether he eats up and does well. If everything is perfect, it's fifty-fifty." Linkage Excels in Blue Grass -By Andrew Beyer Washington Post Staff Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky., April 22--All year, trainer Henry Clark has insisted that he would not run his colt Linkage in the Kentucky Derby. Even after the Derby favorite, Timely Writer, was operated on this week, Clark's resolve wavered only slightly.

But tonight the 77-year-old Marylander is reassessing his position, for he learned this afternoon that Linkage may well be the most talented member of his equine generation. His brilliant victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland ensured that he would be the favorite if he runs at Churchill Downs a week from Saturday.

Not only did Linkage defeat his closest opponent by 5 1/2 lengths, he ran a mile and one-eighth in 1:48 without undo urging by jockey Bill Shoemaker. That time, three-fifths of a second off the track record, was much faster than Spectacular Bid's victory in the Blue Grass, much faster than Alydar's, much faster than Riva Ridge's. From the point of view of speed handicappers, it was much faster than any 3-year-old in the United States ever has run, including Timely Writer.

No one could have anticipated this day's events. In fact, most experts agreed that this was one of the weakest fields ever assembed for the prep race that has produced seven Derby winners in the last 18 years. Even though Linkage had compiled an admirable record--seven victories and two seconds in nine races--he was hard to evaluate because he had done all of his serious running in Louisiana this winter against opposition of uncertain quality.

He is not hard to evaluate now.

Linkage broke alertly today, but Shoemaker immediately took tight hold of the reins. "I had wanted to be sitting third or fourth," he said, "but there was no pace in the race." So Linkage loped along outside 62-to-1 Deep Freeze for a half-mile, while Wavering Monarch, a precocious colt making only his third start, sat behind the leaders.

After he had gone a half-mile in a moderate 46 3/5 seconds, Linkage began to accelerate, reaching the six-furlong mark in a swift 1:10. Wavering Monarch took up the chase and was trying hard, but Linkage toyed with him and drew away through the stretch. Gato del Sol, the California invader, rallied on the inside to finish second, but he was not gaining on the leader.

Linkage earned $127,773 for owner Jane Dupont Lunger, and paid his backers $3.80, $2.40 and $2.20. Gato del Sol returned $3.20 and $2.60 and Wavering Monarch paid $2.80 to show.

Eddie Delahoussaye, who rode Gato del Sol, pointed out correctly that everything was in Linkage's favor today. "When you let a horse of that caliber go that slow early, he's awfully tough to catch," the jockey said. That's true. But given those favorable circumstances, there is probably not a 3-year-old anywhere who could have done what Linkage did today.

While Clark had expressed doubts earlier in the week about Linkage's ability to handle the Derby distance, the colt should have erased them. "The way he ran," Shoemaker said, "he acted like another eighth of a mile wouldn't bother him."

But will he have the chance to prove it?

Clark never has cared much for the whooptedoo that surrounds the Derby. Because of his Maryland roots, he always has been more interested in winning the Preakness. He wasn't kidding this winter when he ruled out the Derby: Linkage's owner has booked a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II that sails April 28.

Both Clark and Lunger seem immune to the obsession with the Derby that rules the decisions of most owners and trainers. They are genuinely undecided about what to do.

"I won't know until tomorrow," Clark said. "This was not that easy a race for him. I'll see how he comes out of it, whether he eats up and does well. If everything is perfect, it's fifty-fifty."