Maryland racing has a star.

Mighty Appealing, a colt who had only a local reputation until yesterday, proved that he is one of the best 2-year-olds in America when he won the $292,475 Laurel Futurity.

The victory was worth $169,485 to owner Lillian C. Solomon of Washington, D.C.

In scoring a 2 1/2-length victory over longshot Cutlass Reality, he not only ran fast, but he showed that he has both versatility and a bit of courage. He has now won all three of his races by a combined margin of 27 1/2 lengths, and trainer Dean Gaudet didn't blink when somebody asked if she thought Mighty Appealing could win the Eclipse Award as the champion of his generation.

"You can hope," she said, "that this horse is capable of anything."

As impressively as Mighty Appealing had won the first two sprints of his career at Laurel this fall, there were plenty of legitimate questions surrounding him as he came into the Futurity. He had scored both those victories without being subjected to any real pressure. How would he react to a tough competitive situation?

The same questions could be asked about his jockey, Greg Smith, who had virtually given up his career because it was going nowhere.

Both horse and rider answered plenty of questions in the first crucial seconds of the Futurity.

Mighty Appealing didn't break with his usual alacrity, and he was jostled a bit by the horse next to him. So instead of finding himself on the lead, he found himself in the middle of the pack, in heavy traffic.

"They were all ganged up," Smith said. "I knew he might be in a little trouble. But I knew from his workouts that he could close, and that he could run with horses around him. So I just let the race set up."

While World Peace and Cutlass Reality fought for the early lead, setting a slow pace, Smith let Mighty Appealing relax and finally worked his way to the rail. On the turn he had advanced into third place and, as the leaders swung wide into the stretch, Mighty Appealing found himself with clear sailing on the rail. A Hall of Fame jockey like Jorge Velasquez couldn't have done any better.

In fact, Velasquez was doing much worse, getting his mount, Mugzy's Rullah, into heavy traffic on the turn. Ruben Hernandez, the rider of Rhoman Rule, was losing a lot of ground, going five-wide around the turn.

As he entered the stretch, Mighty Appealing suddenly took the lead away from Cutlass Reality and took command of the Futurity. He started to bear out in the final furlong -- never a good sign -- but his lead was never seriously challenged. Rhoman Rule made a strong bid early in the stretch, but he faded in the final yards and Cutlass Reality came back to get second place by a nose. Doubly Clear, the only stakes winner in the field, was fourth.

Mighty Appealing covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43. The performance might not compare with those of Cure The Blues and Spectacular Bid, the last two Maryland-based colts to win this race, but it was good enough to certify him as one of the leaders of this weak equine generation. The only 2-year-old in the Northeast who may be better is Chief's Crown, the winner of the Cowdin Stakes at Belmont Park yesterday.

Mighty Appealing, the favorite, paid $5.20, $4.40 and $4. Cutlass Reality returned $18.80 and $17.60, and Rhoman Rule paid $11.20 to show.

Gaudet bought Mighty Appealing this winter for $225,000 and gave the leggy colt plenty of time to develop. When the son of Valid Appeal made his racing debut at Laurel on opening day, the trainer had no thoughts of the Futurity. That would be asking too much, too soon.

Mighty Appealing won so impressively in that maiden race and in his second start that Gaudet paid $7,500 to make him a supplementary nominee, but still feared that the colt might not have enough seasoning. But now she can start planning the rest of the colt's 2-year-old campaign more aggressively, to learn whether he might indeed be the best of his generation.