In a racing season with no dominant 3-year-olds, any colt who gives a sharp performance during April might develop into a Kentucky Derby winner. And so Saturday's Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico takes on a significance beyond its $100,000 purse.

The two principal contenders in the 1 1/16-mile event for Maryland-breds, Deputed Testamony and Dixieland Band, are both Derby nominees with the potential to become bona fide Derby contenders.

They faced each other last fall in a stake at Laurel, with Dixieland Band winning by a nose, and gave indications that they might be among the best Maryland-bred, Maryland-based horses to come along in years. But until now neither has been asked to do much as a 3-year-old.

Trainer Billy Boniface sent Deputed Testamony to South Carolina during the winter. Charlie Peoples had Dixieland Band in Florida, but a minor injury set back the colt's training and he didn't run there. Both trainers then used an allowance sprint at Keystone as a prep for the Tesio, with Deputed Testamony finishing second and Dixieland Band third. Saturday, they will finally indicate whether they are likely to live up to the promise they showed as 2-year-olds.

Six other Maryland-breds will challenge the two favorites: Hardi, Island Champ, King's Corsair, Love to Laugh, Count Turf and Minabchar. Of them, only Hardi appears a formidable contender. Although he was not nominated to the Kentucky Derby, he has come to life this spring and scored two smashing victories over the Pimlico track. He also has drawn the favorable No. 1 post position.

Racing fans may be able to judge the quality of the Tesio winner's performance by looking at the Teletimer. In the race preceding the stake, some of the better older horses in the state will be running in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race. Ordinarily, such a field would be expected to run faster than most good 3-year-olds. If either Deputed Testamony or Dixieland Band runs as fast as the seventh-race winner, his trainer and owner can start making plans for a trip to Louisville.