08/08/2007 12:00AM

No sign of quit in Better Talk Now


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Graham Motion was sitting in the grandstand at Belmont Park watching the field come into the stretch of the Manhattan Handicap when a New York fan sitting behind him yelled out "Look at that Better Talk Now, he's finished!"

Moments later, Better Talk Now knifed his way through the field and got up to win the Grade 1 Manhattan by a head over English Channel. As Motion began his walk to the winner's circle, he turned to the fan and, in his low-key manner, said, "What did you say about Better Talk Now?"

Motion has been saying for months that he believes Better Talk Now, an 8-year-old gelded son of Talkin Man, is as good, if not better, than at any time in his career. Motion and owner Brent Johnson also believe that Better Talk Now is somewhat under appreciated for a horse that has won 14 of 40 starts, banked nearly $3.9 million, and was a half-length away from winning two editions of the Breeders' Cup Turf.

Better Talk Now upset the 2004 Turf at odds of 27-1. Last year, he fell a half-length shy of Red Rocks.

"Had he won that Breeders' Cup, I mean surely he would have gone down as one of the all-time greats," Motion said. "In the meantime, he's struggled a little bit [to gain notoriety], but this year people have been more impressed by the fact that he's come back again to compete on that level."

The Manhattan was the fifth Grade 1 victory of Better Talk Now's career. The first Grade 1 came in the 2004 Sword Dancer Invitational, his last appearance at Saratoga. After running the last two years in the Arlington Million, Better Talk Now returns to Saratoga to run in Saturday's $500,000 Sword Dancer.

Better Talk Now has enabled Johnson and his partners in Bushwood Stable, as well as Motion, to experience dizzying highs and a few lows in Thoroughbred racing. From the private purchase that almost fell through in 2002 to the Breeders' Cup Turf victory of 2004 that almost didn't happen, it's a ride that neither Motion nor Johnson would trade.

"He's taken us everywhere," Motion said. "The friendships that we've had, the experiences. Realistically, we've got to be in the twilight of his career. But I really just want to enjoy [his remaining races] and not get so worked up about them."

Johnson became aware of Better Talk Now after this fourth start, a second-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile dirt race at Churchill on June 19, 2002. Johnson thought he had a deal to purchase Better Talk Now shortly thereafter. However, on the last day of the 2002 Churchill meet, then-trainer Diane Perkins put Better Talk Now in a turf maiden race and he won by nine lengths.

"I was just sick," Johnson said. "I thought the deal's over, I can't get him. Ten days later, they called me back. They wanted more money, but we ended up finding a middle ground."

As a racing fan, Johnson always dreamed of running a horse at Saratoga. Better Talk Now looked to be in a winnable spot in a first-level allowance race here five years ago, but he ended up eighth, beaten by 1o3/4 lengths. He came back in the Saranac here and finished sixth.

The next year was filled with mixed results for Better Talk Now, who won allowance races at Delaware, Aqueduct, and Gulfstream. He earned his first stakes victory in the Eight Thirty at Delaware in June 2003. He followed that with a second-place finish to Honor in War in the Grade 2 Arlington Handicap, a race that turned out to be pivotal one in his career.

"[Rene] Douglas couldn't ride him the entire stretch because he was pulling to the right so hard to keep him off horses," Johnson said. "That's when Graham went to the old extended blinkers."

While the blinkers - which have an extended cup to cover the left eye - may have helped Better Talk Now run straight, it didn't help him with his other problem, overeagerness. In many of his races, Better Talk Now would get too pumped up and move too soon.

"He really only started to settle down properly last year," Motion said. "Until then, he would have his days when he wouldn't. That was the cause of a lot of his inconsistency."

Motion believes Better Talk Now's breakthrough race came in the 2004 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont, when he rallied from 10 lengths back under Jose Santos to finish second to Kicken Kris.

Santos got injured before the Sword Dancer, and that's when Motion reached out for Ramon Dominguez, who guided Better Talk Now to victory in the 2004 Sword Dancer and who has been aboard him in 18 of his last 19 starts.

Though Better Talk Now would go on to win the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf, he almost didn't make it to Lone Star Park for the race.

"He breezed the week before the Breeders' Cup and Graham said it was the worst breeze the horse ever had," Johnson said.

Motion said had he not had Film Maker to run in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, he likely would not have shipped Better Talk Now to Lone Star Park.

In 2005, Better Talk Now won the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth and the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont. But he finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont, a race in which he was too wide over a yielding turf, Motion said.

Last year at 7, Better Talk Now won the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico and the Sky Classic at Woodbine. But his performances against elite company in the United Nations and Arlington Million were disappointing. He ran a big race in the Breeders' Cup Turf, his late run falling just shy to Red Rocks.

"I never imagined being disappointed about finishing second in a Breeders' Cup race," Motion said.

Johnson said there was never any hesitation whether to bring Better Talk Now back to the races this year. And, if he's in as good as shape at the end of this year as he was last, Better Talk Now will likely return as a 9-year-old.

"We'll run him until he shows us he's not happy about what he's doing or that he's not competitive on the highest level," Johnson said.