For most of his life, Stephan's Odyssey has been one of those plodders who rally from far behind but habitually come up short. Even after he finished second in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, he never inspired much enthusiasm or commanded much respect.

But trainer Woody Stephens' colt is shedding his old reputation, as he showed in the Jim Dandy Stakes today. He won with such authority, under seemingly adverse conditions, that he is starting to look as formidable as any other 3-year-old in the country.

The Saratoga racing strip has been giving an almost insuperable advantage to front-runners, and Stephan's Odyssey was going to be a prisoner of his own running style. "He likes to run from way back," jockey Laffit Pincay said. "If you try to change his race pattern, he doesn't run as well. He loves to rush up on the other horses. I think he loves making that one big run."

So that is just what Pincay and Stephan's Odyssey did. While the Maryland invader Don's Choice raced head and head for the lead with Government Corner, Stephan's Odyssey dropped back into last place. He was even several lengths behind the next-to-last horse.

Don's Choice finally shook loose on the turn, opened an advantage of nearly three lengths and looked like the probable winner. But then Stephan's Odyssey swung to the outside and accelerated past the pack.

He was no plodder today. Stephan's Odyssey moved swiftly into second place at the top of the stretch, then flew past Don's Choice one-sixteenth of a mile from the wire. Covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 4/5, he scored by 1 1/2 lengths over the Maryland colt, with Government Corner another three-quarters of a length back in third.

This was the second straight race in which Stephan's Odyssey has shown this kind of acceleration and flair; he was impressive coming from last place to win the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park last month. He will shoot for his third straight victory, and possibly stake a claim to the 3-year-old championship, when he faces Chief's Crown in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 17.