Maryland's avid racegoers long have known Endless Surprise to be one of the circuit's fastest horses. But soundness was another matter: The colt had bad feet when trainer Hyman (Hap) Ravich claimed him for $20,000 last year, then was laid off three months this fall after injuring a hip on a van ride.

Yesterday, Endless Surprise displayed his speed and confirmed his fitness, leading all the way for a two-length victory over Bea Quality in the $43,600 Columbia Handicap at Laurel. It was his first stakes triumph.

Endless Surprise had beaten Bea Quality by 3 1/2 lengths in his previous start -- his first since the hip injury -- but benefitted from being the field's lone speed horse. He figured to have a tougher time in the Columbia with the presence of Control Zone, a swift stakes winner from Canada, but nonetheless was made the 9-to-5 favorite by a rainy-day crowd of 8,272.

Control Zone never posed a threat, however, as Endless Surprise shot from the gate under Kent Desormeaux, the nation's most victorious jockey. On a sloppy track, the gray colt splashed away to an early 1 1/2-length lead before Jose Ferrer moved Miracle Wood within a length on the outside.

Miracle Wood stayed close as Endless Surprise turned fractions of 22 4/5 seconds and :46 1/5. Vince Bracciale Jr., meanwhile, was rallying 120-pound highweight Bea Quality from fourth on the outside.

"{Miracle Wood} was pressing him the first part of the race, and I was getting a little wary," Desormeaux said. "But when I called his name, he took off. It's funny; I don't smooch to him, I just say his name, and he loves it."

Endless Surprise, under 118 pounds, extended his lead to four lengths at the top of the lane and finished in 1:17 2/5. Miracle Wood held third, five lengths behind Bea Quality and a head before 50-to-1 Vandy's Friend.

The victory was No. 416 this year for Desormeaux, who has broadened his national lead over Pat Day to about 30. Desormeaux has had at least one winner over the last 26 racing days. He has 67 triumphs at Laurel this fall; Allen Stacy, last year's Eclipse Award winning apprentice, is second in the jockey standings with 19.

Yesterday's $28,340 take pushed Endless Surprise's career total to $137,300. Most of that has been earned since Ravich claimed the colt from Dale Capuano for the Hillman family of Owings Mills, Md.

Many trainers would recount their reasons for such a claim. Not the veteran Ravich. He tugged at his rumpled golf hat and said, "Everybody gets lucky once in a while."