08/09/2006 11:00PM

Better Talk Now has far exceeded expectations


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Pop quiz, racing fans. Which active horse in the span of two years has won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf, the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, the Grade 1 United Nations, and the Grade 1 Man o' War?

The Breeders' Cup kind of gives it away, but the answer is Better Talk Now, who somewhat quietly has become the most accomplished American turf horse in recent years. Quietly, because he will start Saturday in the as perhaps the sixth choice in the Arlington Million, and in Daily Racing Form's Watchmaker Watch, a weekly listing of divisional leaders, Better Talk Now ranks only seventh.

"I think that he hasn't probably gotten quite the credit he's deserved for all he's accomplished," said Brent Johnson. "From a historical perspective, what he's done is pretty amazing."

Johnson may be slightly biased as part of a three-man partnership racing as the Bushwood Stable that owns Better Talk Now. Johnson lives in Virginia, Carl Barth in Seattle, and Chris Dwyer here in Chicago. And when Bushwood privately purchased Better Talk Now as a maiden winner in 2003, they merely hoped they were getting a nice horse, not a Grade 1 animal capable on his day of staying with about anyone.

The Bushwood people aren't expert horsemen, but trainer Graham Motion is. And when he first laid eyes on Better Talk Now, who even at age 7 has the shape of a racing greyhound rather than a powerful Thoroughbred, neither did Motion envision excellence.

"No, I honestly couldn't say that I did," Motion said. "If someone had told me that he would be the horse that would take me to the Breeders' Cup, I never could have imagined it."

In impatient hands, Better Talk Now, who once was positively skinny, might have slid into anonymity, but instead he has steadily developed, morphing from that first Grade 3 win in November 2003 into a top turfer.

"He is carrying a little more weight now, but he's not a robust horse, and he never will be," Motion said. "I really don't train him hard. I sometimes only breeze him three or four weeks after a race, and I guess I kind of train him like a filly. Artie Schiller, I remember seeing after we'd run against him that he'd worked 10 days later, and we hadn't even gotten back to galloping yet."

Better Talk Now went to the Japan Cup last winter and finished 12th, but traveled well, according to his connections, and was victimized by an untimely foot abscess. Another trip to the far East, perhaps back to Japan, or to Hong Kong, or perhaps even as the first American-based horse to run in Australia's Melbourne Cup, is being contemplated.

And as for the task at hand, the Million, Motion said he believes Better Talk Now can better his close fourth-place finish from last year, when he was compromised by a very wide trip.

"I was quoted at the beginning of the year that he was as good now as he's ever been, and I still believe that," Motion said.

Johnson said the Bushwood partners are looking toward the future with a half-brother to Better Talk Now who is training in South Carolina. At the same time, no one is expecting to get another one like him anytime soon.

"I think we all realize that he's the horse of a lifetime," said Motion.