Ruling Gold is a nasty 2-year-old colt; he lost his last start when he took his mind off running in the stretch and tried to bite another horse. But this ornery animal can perform a noble act Monday if he wins the Saratoga Special Stakes. He will help a Washington, D.C., charity.

Robert Abbo, proprietor of the Roma Restaurant, this year started a charitable enterprise known as the Poor Robert's Foundation, whose aim he said is "to help small groups where a little bit of money can go a long way." The foundation has given money to a school for retarded children, a community health service, a disease-research center. Most of its funds are raised by a golf tournament, the Poor Robert's Classic, but some comes from individual contributions.

Since many of Abbo's friends are horse degenerates and lovers of action, he solicits funds in a fashion that other eleemosynary organizations might consider unorthodox. Abbo will tell prospective donors that they may wish to make a wager, with all proceeds going to the foundation. Who could resist the chance to gamble and be a good citizen, too?

When Abbo told me the Poor Robert's Foundation was $1,000 short of its $20,000 goal, I pledged to bet $100 for him and roll up that stake to the needed figure. The project started auspiciously, when a 7-to-2 shot won by a nose at Laurel, increasing the bankroll to $450. From there, I figured, getting to $1,000 would be easy; all I had to do was bet $250 on a mortal lock: Linkage in the Belmont Stakes. When my faith in Linkage proved wrong by the small margin of 22 lengths, I decided to wait until the Saratoga meeting to rebuild our bankroll. Monday we begin, with $200 on Ruling Gold in the eighth

After losing the first two starts of his career, Ruling Gold broke his maiden in sensational fashion, carrying an obscure apprentice jockey named William Antongeorgi to a 12-length victory at Belmont Park. After that impressive performance, Ruling Gold went into the Tremont Stakes, where he chased a speedball named Laus' Cause, and caught the leader a sixteenth of a mile from the wire. At that point he turned his head and tried to savage his rival, enabling Laus' Cause to surge ahead again. By the time Ruling Gold regained his momentum it was too late; he lost by a nose.

Not only was this a novel excuse for losing a race, but the time of the Tremont--1:10 1/5 for six furlongs--suggests that Ruling Gold is a very promising 2-year-old, and clearly is superior to his six rivals in the 80th running of the Saratoga Special.

The favorite, Victorious, is the Daily Racing Form's best bet of the day, on the basis of two triumphs in stakes at Belmont, but he is grossly overrated. In neither of those races did he run especially fast. He scored his most recent victory in the Juvenile Stakes when he sat behind a speed duel and inherited the lead when the pacesetters collapsed.

Pappa Riccio is the other principal contender, having won four straight races at four different tracks, including the Mayflower Stakes at Suffolk and the Dover Stakes at Delaware. But the horses he beat were an undistinguished lot. One of the horses who ran close to him at Suffolk also raced against Ruling Gold in the Tremont and was soundly trounced.

Whether one is a speed handicapper or a classifier, Ruling Gold looks like a standout. He has a top trainer, Tommy Kelly, and a top jockey, Mike Venezia. But because of Victorious' inflated reputation, Ruling Gold is listed at a liberal 5 to 2 in the morning line.

Even if he goes off at 8 to 5, that price would be sufficient to bring the foundation within striking distance of our goal. If he loses, however, the Poor Robert's Foundation may have a new applicant for its charity.