02/06/2008 1:00AM

Better Talk Now tries winter racing

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NEW ORLEANS - It is February, and Better Talk Now is supposed to be on holiday. In fact, it would be entirely reasonable if Better Talk Now, at age 9, were on permanent holiday, retired to graze grass and gaze at nothing in particular in some peaceful pasture.

But at this point, there is no reason to believe Better Talk Now is itching for life after racing. And instead of his usual winter vacation, Better Talk Now took a business trip Tuesday from his home base at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland to New Orleans. He has a date Saturday with the Fair Grounds Handicap, a rare winter start for a gelding who has made an excellent living racing summer through autumn.

In fact, the last time Better Talk Now had a winter campaign, it began in New Orleans. That was way back in December 2002, when he shipped to Fair Grounds for the Woodchopper Handicap, but Better Talk Now didn't travel well, washed out before the race, and threw in a clunker, finishing eighth.

Since that winter, trainer Graham Motion has followed a predictable pattern with Better Talk Now, who got better and better through the middle of the first decade of the 21st century: Race through November or early December, rest, and come back in April or May.

But a minor injury last summer put a monkey wrench in Better Talk Now's schedule, and he went unraced between the July 7 United Nations Handicap and the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Turf. Thus, the time seemed ripe to follow through on an idea considered several seasons ago, a trip to Dubai for the 1 1/2-mile Sheema Classic, part of the Dubai World Cup card, which comes up on March 29 this year.

"It didn't make a lot of sense to have him 8 turning 9 and give him a month off," Motion said. "We've always wanted to do the Dubai trip, but it never made sense with the Breeders' Cup, with him not having a break."

Better Talk Now's flight Tuesday included a stop in Memphis, which was in the midst of a tornado outbreak late Tuesday afternoon, but Better Talk Now made it to Fair Grounds by Tuesday evening, and went out to train Wednesday morning. On Monday, he had his final breeze for the Fair Grounds Handicap, going five furlongs on Fair Hill's synthetic track in the company of his regular workmate, Jade's Revenge. Motion said Better Talk Now worked well, just as he had in two major breezes the two weeks before, and did not look like a horse that will be several years older than most of his competition Saturday.

"It's a little bit of unknown territory for us, but he gives me every indication that he's fine," said Motion. "From what I've seen, I'd be surprised if he's lost a step.

Check It Twice drops out

The Florida contingent for Saturday's Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes has been reduced by one, with trainer Todd Pletcher holding Check It Twice out of the race, which was drawn Monday.

Check It Twice would have been among the betting favorites for the Risen Star, having won consecutive races late last year at Calder, including an easy victory in the $100,000 What a Pleasure. A portion of the Repent colt had subsequently been sold by owner-breeder Cloverleaf Farms, and Check It Twice had been moved from trainer Kathleen O'Connell to Pletcher's string at Palm Beach Downs, where he has been working sharply.

Pletcher said that Check It Twice was under consideration for the ungraded Sam Davis Stakes next weekend at Tampa Bay Downs. Check It Twice has yet to accumulate any graded stakes earnings, which is the basis for awarding berths in the Kentucky Derby.

The other Florida-based Risen Star entrant, Visionaire, arrived here early Wednesday morning and wasted no time getting a feel for the Fair Grounds circuit, taking a jog on the main track not long after his arrival.

Visionaire will be making both his stakes and two-turn debut. He won his last two starts, both in one-turn miles, the first against maidens at Laurel Park, the more recent a 5 1/2-length entry-level allowance win Jan. 4 at Gulfstream. Visionaire, a portion of whom has been purchased by Team Valor, is by Grand Slam and out of a French Deputy mare, and trainer Mike Matz thinks the colt will stretch out.

"I certainly think he can get the mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth," Matz said. "He just has never done it yet."

Mad Flatter injured and out

Mad Flatter, who finished third in the Lecomte while making his stakes debut, has been injured and will not race again for several months, trainer Jeff Thornbury said Wednesday.

Mad Flatter earned a spot in the Lecomte with a sharp two-turn allowance race win at Fair Grounds, and turned in a solid performance while employing new off-the-pace tactics in the Lecomte. He came out of the race well, but was injured in a five-furlong work on Jan. 30. Mad Flatter was being pointed to the Southwest Stakes next week at Oaklawn, Thornbury said.

"He's out of the play now," Thornbury said. "It's a real shame, heartbreaking really, but it just wasn't meant to be."

Eight Belles to hit the road

The 3-year-old filly Eight Belles, who smoked through a 15-length entry-level allowance win here Jan.o21, will be shipped to Oaklawn Park by this weekend and is scheduled to make her next start in the one-mile Martha Washington Stakes on Feb. 17, trainer Larry Jones said.

Jones said he kept Eight Belles at Fair Grounds through this week in case Proud Spell was for some reason unable to make Saturday's Silverbulletday Stakes, but with Proud Spell set for that race, Jones will send Eight Belles on a different path in order to keep his two 3-year-old route fillies separate.