10/13/2005 11:00PM

Reunited at her best distance in TCA

Behaving Badly puts her perfect record on the line in the $300,000 TCA Stakes on Sunday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trainer Neil Howard is hard at work on his second set of 1,000 wins, having completed his first set Wednesday, when Soul Search won at Keeneland. After some soul searching, Howard concluded that perhaps the best way to have one of his stable stars, Reunited, contribute toward the second set is not by running her against 3-year-olds next Saturday in the Raven Run Stakes, but against older mares here Sunday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes.

"It's about the distance," said Howard. "We just thought if both races are going to be equally tough, then let's go ahead and opt for the older mares, because then you're talking six furlongs, as opposed to seven for the Raven Run."

Howard long has been impressed with the sprinting abilities of Reunited, a Dixie Union filly bred and owned by Will Farish. "She's a six-furlong specialist, nice and fast," said Howard. "It's Keeneland, it's three-quarters, and we'll be getting a little break in the weights from the older mares. We're giving it our best shot."

The TCA Stakes underwent a substantial purse increase since last year, having been raised from $125,000 to its current level. The big bump certainly appears to have given the race greater depth, attracting Behaving Badly, an undefeated Bob Baffert-trained filly from California, and several other high-class filly-mare sprinters in a field of 11.

Behaving Badly, a New York-bred 4-year-old, has won 3 of 3 starts, all at Del Mar. "It'll be interesting to see how she does somewhere else," said Baffert. "She's a filly with a lot of quality, I know that, although any time you run at Keeneland, the race is going to be tough."

Behaving Badly, owned by Hal and Patti Earnhardt, ran once at 3, earning a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, then had nearly a year off with what Baffert described as "a little hock injury." She returned to action this summer, winning an allowance race, then the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo on Aug. 19.

Baffert said he has not seriously considered restricted races in New York for Behaving Badly, because "she deserves a shot at the good fillies."

"We'll find out Sunday how good she is," he said. "I just hope she likes the racetrack there, because it seems like it's been playing kind of gimmicky lately," he said, referring to the inordinately slow times being recorded on the Keeneland main track this meet.

Jerry Bailey will be in from New York to ride Behaving Badly.

Besides Reunited (post 3) and Behaving Badly (post 8), the TCA field includes the defending champion, Molto Vita (post 10), who will be ridden by the meet's leading jockey, Rafael Bejarano; Forest Music (post 5), an ultra-quick filly whose hit-or-miss tendencies make her an unpredictable threat; My Trusty Cat (post 6), who was good enough to win the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on the Kentucky Derby undercard in May; and Miss Terrible (post 9), another graded winner who makes an intriguing turn-back in distance after having raced primarily in routes.

The TCA field also includes Savorthetime, Vision of Beauty, Platinum Princess, Puxa Saco, and Liz on Polk Street.

Perhaps a live longshot is Vision of Beauty, whose trainer, John T. Ward Jr., has had a quiet meet but always is a danger in major races. Vision of Beauty, a speedy Danzig filly, finished second here last fall in the Grade 2 Raven Run and has won twice in four starts since then. She seems well drawn with post 2, and along with Reunited and Behaving Badly, she might be a prime candidate to surge into contention if Forest Music falters on the front.

This will be the 25th running of the TCA, which goes as the eighth of nine races on a Sunday card that also includes three allowances (races 6, 7, 9). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.