By a fraction of an inch, Broad Brush won the $111,900 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico today. He led all the way but barely held off the late charge of Fobby Forbes.

If the relative merits of these two colts was still inconclusive after the photo finish, this much was proved by the Tesio: The Maryland-based 3-year-olds are a very strong group.

Few people who saw this race would argue with Carlos Garcia, the trainer of Fobby Forbes, who declared, "I think I have one of the best 3-year-olds in America."

Broad Brush came into the Tesio with an excellent record, a fast winning race over the track and the advantage of the No. 1 post position.

The crowd of 15,397 accordingly made him the 6-to-5 favorite, and for most of the 1 1/16 miles he made that price look like a bargain.

Vincent Bracciale Jr. didn't gun Broad Brush out of the gate, but when several of his rivals were fanned wide on the first turn, he saved enough ground to inherit the early lead.

Then Lil Tyler and Miracle Wood rushed up to battle with him, and they raced three abreast down the backstretch.

On the turn, Broad Brush had raced these challengers into defeat. "I managed to get a breather for him near the quarter pole," Bracciale said. "Then I heard the other horse coming."

The other horse was Fobby Forbes, who had raced in the back of the pack early, moved along the rail on the turn, and then swung wide in the stretch to make his challenge.

At the time, his task seemed hopeless; Broad Brush had opened a three-length lead in midstretch, and looked as if he were still going strong.

But in the final yards, Fobby Forbes accelerated powerfully, and finished on almost even terms with the leader. Even on the slow-motion television replay, it was impossible to discern which horse had won.

When Broad Brush's number went up, he paid $4.40 to win.

The two leaders finished seven lengths ahead of the third-place horse, Double Feint.

The fact that they were able to whip the rest of a good field so decisively demonstrated the quality of their performances. So did the time of 1:44 3/5.

Broad Brush, who was bred in Maryland by his owner, Robert Meyerhoff, started his career at Laurel last October and won his first stake there in December.

He has continued to improve steadily, and he looked impressive winning the General George Stakes here last week.

Today's victory was his fifth in seven career starts. He may have his best chance of bolstering his record further if he can manage to stay out of the way of Fobby Forbes.