05/03/2007 12:00AM

Better Talk Now Woodford favorite

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Graham Motion can't help but feel some mixed emotions when thinking back to Better Talk Now's last race at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 4. That day Better Talk Now launched his customary rally from the back of the pack, pulling alongside Red Rocks, but was outfinished by that one, ending up second, beaten a half-length.

"We were obviously thrilled with being second, but it was disappointing to come so close to going in the history books," Motion said.

Having already won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2004, Better Talk Now could have become only the second two-time winner of that race. Champion High Chapparal is the only horse to win it twice, winning it outright in 2002 and finishing in a dead heat for first with Johar in the 2003.

Motion and owners Brent Johnson, Karl Barth, and Chris Dwyer of Bushwood Stable hope to put that Breeders' Cup near-miss behind them Saturday when Better Talk Now makes his first start of the year in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Although the Woodford Reserve, a 1 1/8-mile turf race, is of lesser cache than the Breeders' Cup, nine quality opponents are entered against him, led by Brilliant, Einstein, Go Between, and Icy Atlantic.

Even returning off a layoff and at a distance less than his best, the 8-year-old Better Talk Now is the horse to beat. A 13-time winner with earnings in excess of $3.5 million, he is the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

Freshened over the winter, as usual, Better Talk Now is further along at this stage of the year than in the past, Motion said, which led him to bring the horse back in the Woodford Reserve, as opposed to the Dixie Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day, a race he won last year.

Better Talk Now has been breezing regularly in recent months at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. "He's doing great," Motion said.

Regular jockey Ramon Dominguez returns in the saddle.

Einstein looms the principal adversary to Better Talk Now. He was carried wide into the first turn of the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds March 10, and wider still on the backstretch when a horse was pulled up alongside him, yet he prevailed by a half-length over Cloudy's Knight. Robby Albarado rides.

Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes winner Icy Atlantic and Go Between, who took the Grade 2 Virginia Derby last year, are other contenders.