10/17/2007 11:00PM

Can't count the old boy out

EmailIf you want to drink the Kool-Aid, go ahead and concede the Breeders' Cup Turf to Dylan Thomas, who won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe two weekends ago in Paris and is regarded by many as the best 1 1/2-mile grass horse in the world. But while 4-year-old Dylan Thomas was no more than a twinkle in his mother's eye, 8-year-old Better Talk Now already was winning graded stakes races, and here is a horse who has a way of sneaking up on people come Breeders' Cup time.

In 2004, Better Talk Now was a 27-1 shot when he beat heavily favored Kitten's Joy and the well-regarded Irish horse Powerscourt - like Dylan Thomas, trained by Aidan O'Brien - in the BC Turf at Lone Star Park. The 2005 BC Turf was not Better Talk Now's finest moment, as he checked in a distant seventh at Belmont, but last fall, at Churchill Downs, Better Talk Now was at it again, flying home at 18-1 for a close second behind Red Rocks. And next weekend, when he tries again for his second win in the Turf, Better Talk Now is set to become only the ninth horse to make as many as four appearances in the Breeders' Cup, and among that group, he is one of only three to have won a BC race.

Has old age begun setting in? Not according to Graham Motion, who has trained Better Talk Now since the summer of 2002, when the racing partnership called Bushwood Stables privately purchased him.

"I wish the Breeders' Cup was this week and not next week," Motion said Thursday morning. "He's so good right now."

Racing fans are forgiven if Better Talk Now has at least briefly fallen off their radar. His last race came July 7, when he closed for third behind English Channel in a false-paced edition of the United Nations on the Monmouth grass course. Better Talk Now always has had a tendency to hit the back of his front legs with his hind hoofs while racing - which is why he runs in heavy front wraps - but in the U.N., for whatever reason, the issue became more serious.

"I think it was because the ground was so firm," Motion said. "He rapped the heck of out of his right front ankle, and had a pretty nasty wound. It seemed to heal just fine, but the week of the [Aug. 11] Sword Dancer, it became this raging infection."

Better Talk Now needed two weeks of walking and regular trips to an equine spa, which applied ice-cold salt water on the affected area to promote healing. Back in business, and back at Motion's Fair Hill training center base in Maryland, Better Talk Now got back to breezing on Sept. 8, but immediately suffered another minor setback.

"I brought him back in a way I thought was fairly sensible, but the first time I breezed him, I think he just overdid it," Motion said. "The next week, he was so stiff. He's just an old guy. I had to regroup and start over again."

Still, there was enough of a window for Better Talk Now to be sufficiently prepared for still another Breeders' Cup. To begin with, this is a horse who does not require a heavy training regimen. Much more greyhound than fullback, Better Talk Now is light on his feet, a wisp of a horse with a surprisingly long stride. In less sensitive hands, Better Talk Now easily could have been a burn-out case years ago, but Motion, who has become a Breeders' Cup regular, has deftly guided him through five high-class seasons of regular racing.

And now, for the first time in his Breeders' Cup history, and purely by accident, Better Talk Now is coming into the Turf a truly fresh horse.

"I think the time frame is fine," said Motion. "In fact, I think missing the races will end up being a blessing in disguise. I actually think his last two works have probably been as good as I've ever seen him do - really super works."

Which would make Better Talk Now, as usual, a live longshot on Breeders' Cup Day.