After the undefeated 2-year-old Mighty Appealing won the recent Laurel Futurity, his victory drew so much praise and media attention that one important aspect of the race was overlooked. He wasn't the best horse. The third-place finisher, Rhoman Rule, was.

In fact, Rhoman Rule was as impressive in defeat that day as any member of his age group has been in victory this season. He may prove that he is one of the country's top 2-year-olds when he runs in the $500,000 Young America Stakes at the Meadowlands Thursday night.

The 1 1/16-mile event has brought together a far-flung group of colts. Spend A Buck and Dusty's Darby come here after running one-two in the rich Arlington-Washington Futurity in Chicago. Bionic Light finished second to Chief's Crown, the leader of the East's 2-year-olds, in the Cowdin Stakes at Belmont. Tank's Prospect is shipping here from California, where he won his last start. Cutlass Reality finished second at Laurel.

Rhoman Rule came into the futurity after three unsensational sprint performances in New York. Even his trainer, Angel Penna Jr., conceded, "He wasn't totally prepared; it was a big jump into a Group I stake." Rhoman Rule raced toward the back of the pack while the leaders were setting a very slow pace, then made a powerful five-wide move on the turn.

He couldn't sustain it, because the leaders still were too strong after setting such slow fractions. Moreover, Mighty Appealing managed to get through along the rail while Rhoman Rule was losing so much ground. Rhoman Rule weakened late to finish 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

Rhoman Rule's principal competition in the Young America may come from Spend a Buck, a Cinderella horse who was purchased for $12,500 and has already earned nearly $460,000 this year.