For the past year, the country's best 3-year-old colts have been racing each other and taking turns beating each other.

To some detractors, the absence of a dominant horse is proof that this is a very mediocre generation of racehorses. Yet a few experts point to the fast times of the Triple Crown races and argue that the Class of '85 is deep in talent. The 3-year-olds keep beating each other because there are so many good ones around, is the theory.

By Saturday afternoon, racing fans may know which of these points of view is correct when Chief's Crown steps out of his age bracket to face older rivals in the $334,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park in New York. If he can beat horses such as Track Barron and Vanlandingham, after failing to win any of the Triple Crown races, his generation may deserve a lot more credit than it has received.

After a season of frustration, Chief's Crown finally won a big race in his last start, taking the Travers at Saratoga. His opposition in the Woodward, the first leg of New York's "fall championship series," is tougher, but not impossibly so.

Track Barron won the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in fast time, but he did so by stealing off to an easy lead on a highly speed-favoring track. The rest of his efforts this season have not been impressive.

The main competition for Chief's Crown may come from Vanlandingham, who was being touted as a horse-of-the-year candidate until he ran a poor third in the Whitney.

The others in the six-horse field are Mo Exception, Skip Trial and Bounding Basque. The quality and quantity of the field is surprisingly light, considering the Woodward's importance and the fact the New York Racing Association will pay a $1 million bonus to a horse who wins this race plus the Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup.