08/15/2006 11:00PM

Star filly faces trial

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Behaving Badly works under Pepe Aragon in preparation for Friday's Rancho Bernardo.

DEL MAR, Calif. - From coast to coast, Behaving Badly has been a star in the female sprint division this year, winning four of five starts, all in stakes.

On Friday at Del Mar, Behaving Badly's outstanding season continues when she defends her title in the $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs on a track on which she has never been beaten.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Patti and Hal Earnhardt, Behaving Badly will be a strong favorite against five fillies and mares. The race is run at 6 1/2 furlongs, a distance at which Behaving Badly is proven.

"She always runs well down here," Baffert said. "I think six to 6 1/2 is her distance."

has won three graded stakes this year, including the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita in January and the Grade 2 Genuine Risk Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont Park last month.

A winner of 8 of 11 starts and $614,224, Behaving Badly has won three races at

Del Mar. She can lead throughout or stalk the pace, versatility that gives jockey Victor Espinoza plenty of options.

Behaving Badly, who carries top weight of 122 pounds, figures to be tested in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo.

The field includes , who won the Grade 2 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park on June 3, and the improving Somethinaboutlaura, who won the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 3.

Proposed was fourth in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 2. She was unsettled after the start of the race was delayed and kicked an assistant starter while behind the gate.

"She reacts to what's going on around her," trainer John Shirreffs said. "She was upset."

Proposed can race close to the front, but is more likely to run from off the pace.

"Hopefully, somebody will go out together," Shirreffs said. "You'd think after all the routes, she'd be running at the end. It's a question of whether she has enough early gas to stay close."

has the speed to lead the field early. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, she was near the front throughout the A Gleam, her first graded stakes win.

The other starters - Allswellthatnswell, Short Route, and True and True - will be longshots. They have shown their best form racing from off the pace.

The race is the seventh on an eight-race program that begins at 3:30 p.m.