More than a year after he was being hailed as a star of his generation, Dr. Carter finally won a big one.

He scored a three-length victory today over Key To The Moon in the $281,300 Gulfstream Park Handicap. The race lost a bit of luster when the winner's archrival, Time For A Change, was scratched this morning, but Dr. Carter's victory still was a heartening comeback story.

Last spring, the colt was considered a favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, after finishing second to Time For A Change in the Flamingo Stakes and to Swale in the Florida Derby. But a virus knocked him out of action for the rest of the year.

His return to competition this winter was not auspicious. His new trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, ran Dr. Carter on the turf three times, and he managed only one victory in an allowance race. Then he lost to 53-to-1 shot Mo Exception in the Donn Handicap on the dirt. But Schulhofer maintained that the colt still wasn't completely fit. Today, he finally delivered the kind of performance that had been expected from him for so long.

The scratch of Time For A Change, who reportedly had been training very poorly, left today's field without much speed, and Dr. Carter's jockey, Jorge Velasquez, knew it. While long shot Lord Darnley took the lead and set a slow pace, going the half-mile in 47 3/5 seconds, Velasquez kept Dr. Carter just behind him, in ideal position to make a move.

On the backstretch, Dr. Carter moved outside the tiring leader and took command entering the final turn. As he did, Key To The Moon started to accelerate on the outside and Mo Exception began to move on the inside.

But Dr. Carter still was strong. Schulhofer glanced at the Teletimer when he saw the other horses launching their bids. When he saw that Dr. Carter had traveled the first six furlongs in a comfortable 1:11 3/5, he said, "They ain't gonna get him today."

He was right. Dr. Carter brushed aside his challengers and drew away to a comfortable victory, covering the 1 1/4 miles in an unspectacular 2:02. Pine Circle rallied to finish third, a head behind Key To The Moon. Mo Exception weakened in the final furlong to be fifth.

Dr. Carter paid $4.60.

Plenty of racing people had thought that Dr. Carter would never recapture his 3-year-old form, and plenty of them second-guessed Schulhofer's handling of the colt. But the trainer insisted that he never lost confidence.

"I finally realized that Dr. Carter didn't like the turf, but he had worked brilliantly on the dirt," Schulhofer said. "But it was tough to get him back in shape. It took a long time. He has a lot of little problems and we had some setbacks. But we've got him where we want him now."