04/01/2006 12:00AM

If calm, Taylor Madison a threat

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STICKNEY, Ill. - The highest-class race on Monday's National Jockey Club program is the fourth, a second-level route allowance, but the most interesting horse on Monday's National Jockey Club program is Taylor Madison, who goes in the eighth, an Illinois-bred second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles.

Taylor Madison recently arrived from Florida, where she had a decent winter at Tampa Bay Downs before finishing a distant seventh on

March 18. But the scene of her failure was the $200,000 Florida Oaks, and Taylor Madison looks like a horse who could make a healthy living in Illinois-bred stakes races if she continues to develop.

Taylor Madison won 2 of 3 starts in Chicago last year at age 2, and at Tampa Bay she finished third in the Gasparilla Stakes at seven furlongs and third in the Suncoast Stakes at 1 1/16 miles before her Florida Oaks flop. Sprint or route, trainer Mike Dini isn't sure yet, and Monday's

two-turn race is a prep for the six-furlong Lady Hallie Stakes here April 29.

Taylor Madison got too much of a fast pace and faded in the stretch both times she raced around two turns, but Dini cited specific reasons for her performance on both occasions.

"I think she'll relax, but this will be her last try [in a route] if she doesn't," he said.

Relaxing, however, doesn't come naturally to Taylor Madison. "She's been a head case her whole life," he said. Several times, Taylor Madison has cut her head from rearing up and running into some object that hadn't bothered to move. She can be a handful for a jockey, and threw her rider in the paddock before her last race.

"She was acting crazy all week," said Dini.

But Taylor Madison has settled into Hawthorne, and if she settles on Monday she could easily handle seven opponents, though all are at least a year older than her. If Albata is not dead set for the lead from the rail, Taylor Madison could dictate the early pace, but if she falters, an in-form closer, say, The Last Spy, could come and get her before the wire.

Post-time experiment a wash

The NJC's experiment with a late 3 p.m. Friday post time commenced last week, and while the racetrack's interior felt livelier at about 5:30 than on most weekdays, the two-hour post-time switch basically was a wash in terms of on-track participation. Attendance was just 1,453, which was 75 more than the week before, and ontrack handle was $134,936, about $600 more than the week before. Total handle actually declined from $2,548,724 to $2,038,815.