11/30/2004 12:00AM

Better Talk Now folks not conceding

Better Talk Now wins the Breeders' Cup Turf, beating Kitten's Joy, who still remains the Eclipse favorite.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Flushed with joy in the immediate aftermath of a Breeders' Cup Turf victory, trainer Graham Motion said Better Talk Now would be put away for the rest of the year and would reemerge late next spring.

But in the weeks since that race, Motion reconsidered. Most of it had to do with the condition of Better Talk Now, who came out of the Breeders' Cup in excellent shape and continued to train sharply, according to Motion. In addition, Motion believes Better Talk Now still has a chance to wrest the Eclipse Award from the division's pro tem leader, Kitten's Joy, whom Better Talk Now upset in the Breeders' Cup.

So Better Talk Now was sent west on Tuesday for Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, which will be the first start on the West Coast for Better Talk Now, and the first runner ever at Hollywood Park for Motion.

"He's really done terrific since the Breeders' Cup," Motion said Tuesday morning from his barn at Fair Hill, Md. "We were looking for reasons not to come, but he hasn't given us any.

"When I said he wasn't going to run the rest of the year, it was in the heat of the moment. That's kind of your initial reaction: You've won the Breeders' Cup, what else is there to do? It was an emotional response. You should probably wait a couple of days before saying anything after a race like that. We weren't planning on running him in Florida this winter. With the horse doing so well, we started looking to run him one more time before he got a break. And now with the Eclipse up in the air, this could improve his chances to win the Eclipse."

Kitten's Joy has built what might be an insurmountable lead in the male turf division. He won 6 times in 8 starts this year, and finished second in his only two losses, including the Breeders' Cup. He also won two Grade 1 races, including one against older runners.

Better Talk Now has won just twice in seven starts this year. He has won just as many Grade 1 races as Kitten's Joy, however, and he beat Kitten's Joy in their only head-to-head match-up.

"The sentiment seemingly is that Kitten's Joy has done enough despite being beaten in the Breeders' Cup," Motion said. "So, for us, this is a no-lose situation. We're trying to win another Grade 1 to strengthen our credentials."

Better Talk Now, a 5-year-old gelding, was seemingly a cut below the very best until the second half of this year. His lone graded stakes victory before this year came in the Grade 2 Knickerbocker Handicap at Aqueduct last fall. He ran poorly in his first two starts this year, once on a deep bog at Sam Houston, the other time an inexplicably poor run in Pimlico's Dixie Handicap.

This summer, though, Better Talk Now finally blossomed. He finished second in Belmont's Bowling Green Handicap to Kicken Kris, who subsequently captured the Arlington Million. Better Talk Now then scored a 7-1 upset in the Sword Dancer Handicap at Saratoga. He finished fourth in the Man o'War at Belmont, then won the Breeders' Cup Turf, defeating Kitten's Joy and avenging an earlier loss to Magestretti.

"Why it took him so long, I really can't give a good explanation," Motion said. "He just needed to get over his idiosyncrasies."

Better Talk Now has a tendency to lug in. So, Motion made the unusual, but successful, decision to put an extension cup blinker adjacent to Better Talk Now's left eye. Motion also changed bits to one that is more restrictive. Better Talk Now also appears to respond to the handling of jockey Ramon Dominguez, who is 3 for 5 on Better Talk Now, including victories in two of their last three starts.

"It's maturity and an equipment change," Motion said. "When Rene Douglas rode him last year, he'd always say this horse was close to being a top horse. He kept losing important races by a head and a neck. He has the extension blinker because of a tendency to lean on horses. And we've gone with a little more severe bit."

Better Talk Now has proven a windfall for the Bushwood Racing Partners of Karl Barth, Chris Dwyer, and Brent Johnson, who purchased Better Talk Now privately after a victory against maidens in July 2002. That was his first start on turf. He has not raced on dirt since. He has earned $1.7 million for the partnership, racing at 13 tracks in nine states and two countries.

And now, as Horace Greeley advised, they are going west.

"This is what the game is all about, running these horses," Motion said. "There's no reason not to run."

Chasing the Kitten

Better Talk Now will try for his third Grade 1 victory of the year in the Hollywood Turf Cup on Saturday, which would be one more than Kitten's Joy, leading candidate for the Eclipse Award as top turf horse.

2004: All races

Better Talk Now7220$1,407,000111
Kitten's Joy86201,625,796114

2004: Grade 1 races

Better Talk Now

BC TurfOct. 303 & up1st
Man o' WarSept. 113 & up4th
Sword DancerAug. 143 & up1st

Kitten's Joy

BC TurfOct. 303 & up2nd
Turf ClassicOct. 23 & up1st
SecretariatAug. 143YO1st