08/10/2004 12:00AM

Better Talk Now tries softer

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Arlington Million and Saratoga's Sword Dancer Handicap are both Grade 1 races. Both are on Saturday. The Million is worth twice as much money as the Sword Dancer, so it has attracted most of the nation's top long-distance grass runners.

That suits trainer H. Graham Motion just fine. He's not out for glory, just the right spot, and he believes the Sword Dancer could be just that for Better Talk Now, who most recently finished second in Belmont's Bowling Green Handicap to Million-bound Kicken Kris.

"It's not coming up the strongest Grade 1 race," Motion said Tuesday morning at Saratoga. "My horse ran very well last time. He was beaten by a horse in the Million."

Better Talk Now, a 5-year-old gelding, is winless in four starts this year. But he has improved with each outing.

"His first race, at Sam Houston, there was such a storm there that night that I'm not sure they would have run if it hadn't been their biggest night," Motion said. "I wasn't there, but Rene Douglas was there to ride him, and he called me from his car, saying the storm was so vicious he didn't want to get out of his car. It was a fiasco.

"Then he ran in the Dixie, and he had a terrible post. The ground was very firm, too. His next race at Monmouth was a very competitive race. And then in the Bowling Green he gave a very good effort."

Jose Santos rode Better Talk Now in the Bowling Green, but he is sidelined with a broken arm. Ramon Dominguez will get the mount Saturday.

"Ramon has ridden him before, and that's important, because he's a difficult horse to ride," Motion said. "He needs to be covered up. He's pretty keen if he gets in the open. He also wears a one-cup blinker on the inside because he's got a tendency to lean on other horses."

Motion will try to get his weekend off to a good start on Friday when he sends out the German filly Humaita in the $65,000 Waya Stakes. Humaita won the restricted Sabin Stakes at Belmont Park on May 12, then was fourth in the New York Handicap behind Wonder Again on July 5.

"She took a pretty big step up last time, and it was soft," Motion said. "She should like a mile and a half on Friday, and the ground should be more to her liking."

Both Better Talk Now and Humaita have been with Motion's main barn at Fair Hill in Maryland. They are scheduled to be sent by van to Saratoga on Thursday, Motion said.

Big week for 'The Mig'

Jockey Richard Migliore won three races on Monday to give him 11 for the meet. He won just two races from 24 mounts the first week, but bounced back with a big nine-win performance during Week 2.

"The first week was slow. I was a little worried, because you always want to get off to a good start here and create some good buzz," Migliore said Tuesday morning. "I knew I had a lot of good horses, I was just hoping they would get in. I had a lot of good horses, and fortunately they had a lot of good trips."

Migliore completed his week with a victory aboard Artie Schiller in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes on Monday.

"He gives you a three-sixteenths of a mile kick that's stronger than any horse I've ridden," Migliore said. "His body drops and he digs in."

Pletcher seeks stakes sweep

Todd Pletcher, Saratoga's leading trainer, will try to sweep Saturday's stakes races with Balto Star in the Sword Dancer and Speightstown in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt.

Balto Star finished last of 11 in last year's Sword Dancer, but has won his other two starts on the Saratoga turf. He closed out 2003 with victories in the Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct and McKnight Handicap at Calder, then was an unlucky loser to Hard Buck in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in his 2004 debut in February.

Balto Star has raced just once since, finishing sixth in last month's United Nations Handicap at Monmouth.

"He went into the U.N. off a longer layoff than we wanted to, but we were stuck without many options," Pletcher said. "He should improve with a race under his belt."

Now age 6, Balto Star has won 11 of 35 starts and more than $2 million.

Speightstown is one of two outstanding sprinters Pletcher trains for Eugene and Laura Melnyk. Speightstown will go in the six-furlong Vanderbilt, with Strong Hope awaiting the seven-furlong Forego Handicap on Sept. 4.

Speightstown has won all three of his starts this year, most recently the True North Handicap at Belmont Park on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 5.

No beaten Frankel favorite this time

The Sword Dancer Invitational probably doesn't head the list of trainer Bobby Frankel's favorite races, but that could change on Saturday.

Three out of the last four years, Frankel has saddled the losing favorite in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. Denon represented Frankel in the last two runnings, finishing second in 2002 and fourth last year. In 2000, the Frankel-trained Boatman finished last.

Frankel probably won't be saddling the favorite in the $500,000 Sword Dancer this year. He will run King's Drama, a winner of his last start in an allowance race, in the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer on the turf.

King's Drama, a group winner in France, proved he could hold his own against Grade 1 horses in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park on June 5. At odds of 45-1, King's Drama finished fourth in the nine-horse field and was beaten only two lengths by the winner, Meteor Storm. In his next start, and his first for Frankel, King's Drama met a significantly softer field, facing only three rivals, and winning by 1 1/2 lengths in a 1 1/4-mile allowance race on June 27.

"The [Sword Dancer] isn't coming up too tough," said Frankel, who trains King's Drama for Gary Tanaka. "He's training very good. I don't know what his quality is, but he's a nice horse."

Jorge Chavez has the mount.

Other expected starters are Balto Star, Better Talk Now, Request for Parole, Rochester, and Silverfoot.

Rochester worked seven furlongs on the Oklahoma turf in 1:26.71 on Tuesday.

Hard Buck, a nominee to the Sword Dancer, worked a half-mile on the turf in 49.07 seconds. Hard Buck is expected to skip the Sword Dancer in favor of a race in Germany.

Artie Schiller Saranac-bound

Artie Schiller, the winner of Monday's National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, will likely make another appearance at the Saratoga meet. Jimmy Jerkens, Artie Schiller's trainer, said he would point the 3-year-old to the closing-day stakes at the meet, the Grade 3, $100,000 Saranac on Sept. 6.

Jerkens said another race later in the year he would like to target is the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park in November.

The Hall of Fame was Artie Schiller's third stakes win this year. He also won the Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont in June and the ungraded Woodlawn Stakes at Pimlico in May.

"He's been really professional about everything," Jerkens said. "He trains and runs like an older horse."

* Lady Tak, working for a start in the Grade 1 Ballerina on Aug. 29, covered six furlongs in 1:15.25 on the training track on Tuesday.

* Schuylerville winner Classic Elegance, who is being pointed to the Grade 2 Spinaway on Aug. 20, worked a half-mile in 49.26.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson