12/30/2004 1:00AM

Big Talkin Man on winning path

Jason Stewart/Lang Photography
Private Horde has trailed off a bit in 2004, but he is the proven class of the Holiday Cheer Stakes.

Some trainers shy away from claiming old racehorses. Trainer Bernie Flint has made a living out of it.

In the fall of 2003, he claimed Ask the Lord for $62,500 for his LTB Inc. stable and owner R.A. Williams, and the horse has since amassed earnings of over $256,000. Then last summer he claimed Discreet Hero, taking him for $40,000. That horse closed out 2004 with two stakes victories, earning Beyer Speed Figures of 109 and 107 in them.

On Saturday, Flint aims for another stakes victory with a horse that he claimed for LTB Inc. and R.A. Williams. The horse is Big Talkin Man, who faces a full field of rivals, led by Sgt. Bert, and Private Horde, in the six-furlong Holiday Cheer Stakes at Turfway Park.

Big Talkin Man has much in common with Ask the Lord and Discreet Hero. As with those two, he was not claimed until late in his career. Like them, he quickly improved for Flint.

Big Talkin Man won a $50,000 claimer at Churchill Downs Nov. 10 after winning and being claimed from his 24th career start, a $35,000 claiming race at Keeneland in October. And he followed that with an optional claiming victory at Hawthorne and a runner-up finish to stablemate Paging in an optional claiming race at Turfway Dec. 28.

Returning on less than a week's rest on Saturday, Big Talkin Man seemingly is at a disadvantage. But Flint has a history of winning with horses racing on short rest. Bill Troilo rides.

One of the principal opponents is Sgt. Bert, who like Big Talkin Man has been a rewarding claim. Trainer Gary Montgomery claimed him for $30,000 in June, and won two races with him at Ellis Park.

This fall Sgt. Bert ran second in the Woodford County Stakes at Keeneland and a close fifth in the Cherokee Run Stakes at Churchill. Those races, as well as his wins at Ellis Park, came in turf sprints.

How effective Sgt. Bert will be in a dirt stakes remains to be seen. He won twice on dirt earlier in his career when matched against claiming horses. James Lopez rides.

The established class is Private Horde, winner of the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga in 2003. One of the nations best sprinters that year, he tailed off in 2004, winning 2 of 10 races and $134,440, or about $277,000 less than in the previous year.

His 2004 bankroll is still the second-highest among the Holiday Cheer starters. Big Talkin Man earned the most, banking over $148,000 in 13 starts.