ELMONT, N.Y., SEPT. 20 -- The field in today's $750,000 Marlboro Cup was faulted for being small and lacking quality older horses. But sponsors and Belmont Park officials can take solace in knowing they had the nation's premier 3-year-old.

With his patterned, powerful move around the final turn, Java Gold overcame Polish Navy in midstretch and went on to a two-length victory over 4-year-old Nostalgia's Star for his third consecutive stakes triumph. In taking the second leg of New York's fall championship series, the bay son of Key To The Mint cleared the $1 million mark in 1987 earnings and improved to 5-0 in races longer than a mile.

Ridden by Pat Day, 3-to-5 Java Gold covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01 on a moist track -- going the final quarter-mile in a phenomenal :23 1/5 -- to produce a $450,000 windfall for owner Paul Mellon of Rokeby Stable in Upperville, Va. Polish Navy was third, a neck behind Nostalgia's Star, followed by Gulch and, in the distance, Bordeaux Bob.

"I went into the race with about as much confidence as a person could have," Day said. "He's beaten older horses, and he's beaten them soundly. He's done everything I've asked of him."

Today, he didn't have to ask for much. Polish Navy, as expected, moved to the front under Randy Romero, but Nostalgia's Star and jockey Bill Shoemaker remained about a length off the leader through the backstretch. That helped simplify matters for Day, who was concerned that Polish Navy might steal the race.

Instead, his late-running colt was able to get comfortable, some six lengths back in third, while pressure was applied to the front-runner.

"Going into the race, I made up my mind that I was going to ride him the way that made him happy," Day said. "He kinda led me to believe he wanted to sit back and make a big run. But if Nostalgia's Star hadn't been up there, I probably would have asked him a little bit sooner."

Day first prompted Java Gold with the whip at about the three-eighths pole, as Gulch made a move past him on the inside and Polish Navy widened his lead to three lengths over Nostalgia's Star. Java Gold responded with a rush around the turn, and Polish Navy's clear lead diminished with each stride.

"When we started to move," said Gulch's jockey, Jose Santos, "{Java Gold} just ran by."

By then, the race was for second place.

"There was a question in my mind whether {Gulch and Polish Navy} could go a mile and a quarter," Day said. "I had no doubts about my horse."

Mellon and trainer Mack Miller said Java Gold likely will run in Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 10 and might go in the Breeders' Cup if the colt is healthy.

One race before the Marlboro, Maryland-based Clever Power was favored, 9 to 5, to beat seven other 2-year-old fillies in the $117,600 Astarita Stakes. She finished seventh.

Clever Power broke last, but led by 1 1/2 lengths after a quarter-mile. By the time they turned into the stretch, Clever Power had nothing left; Flashy Runner came on strong to beat Tap Your Toes by a head.

Clever Power, trained at Laurel by Marvin Moncrief, produced a 10-length triumph over males in her previous start, at Pimlico.

In the $138,500 Futurity, Forty Niner led virtually all the way in a three-length triumph over Tsarbaby; Crusader Sword, a 4-to-5 favorite off victories in the Hopeful and Saratoga Special, was third.

Another fast Mr. Prospector colt, Forty Niner went seven furlongs in 1:22 3/5 under Eddie Maple. The victory was trainer Woody Stephens' first in 23 tries this Belmont meeting.