10/22/2008 11:00PM

Old guy still doing things his way


ARCADIA, Calif. - Each morning, the Graham Motion stable in Fair Hill, Md., revolves around the whims of Better Talk Now.

As the morning unfolds, Better Talk Now is walked for 30 minutes in the stable and then spends an hour relaxing in a paddock. Ideally, that is followed by racetrack exercise, but sometimes Better Talk Now has his own ideas. He can be impossible to coax out of the paddock sometimes.

"If it's a sunny day, he'll just stand and plant himself," said Alice Clapham, an exercise rider and assistant trainer for Motion. "He's got his own opinion. Sometimes, he'll get bored and walk in."

All the fuss has been worth it.

Better Talk Now is the stable's celebrity. Way back in 2004, Better Talk Now won the Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star Park. A 9-year-old gelding, Better Talk Now has not missed the race since, finishing seventh at Belmont Park in 2005, second at Churchill Downs in 2006, and fourth at Monmouth Park in 2007.

When he starts in Saturday's $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita, Better Talk Now will become the third horse to start in a Breeders' Cup race for five consecutive years. He will join Kona Gold, who made five appearances in the BC Sprint, winning in 2000, and Perfect Drift, whose best finish in five appearances in the BC Classic was a third in the 2005 running at Belmont Park.

"I feel like it's a tremendous achievement, but I wouldn't want people to think that's why we're running," Motion said.

This year, Better Talk Now approaches the BC Turf winless in six starts. He is not being mentioned as a leading contender among the American horses for the Turf - the richest turf race in the United States - an assessment that Motion believes is wrong.

"People will say, 'Why is he running in this race?' " Motion said. "I don't think it's through a lack of effort; the races have to set up in a certain matter. From the way he runs off the pace, it's been a frustrating year."

Better Talk Now has raced at five tracks in three countries this year. After finishing sixth in the Fair Grounds Handicap in February, he was ninth in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad al Sheba in March, a troubled fifth in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park in June, third in the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park in July, second in the Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga in August, and seventh in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 7, his most recent start.

The losses in the Manhattan and Northern Dancer bother Motion. Better Talk Now was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by BC Turf candidate Dancing Forever in the Manhattan after being stuck in traffic in the stretch.

"I think he was unlucky in the Manhattan," Motion said.

After the Northern Dancer, Motion walked to the racetrack to meet with regular rider Ramon Dominguez, expecting Dominguez to express disappointment. Instead, Dominguez told him that Better Talk Now had clipped heels with a rival at a pivotal point in the race.

"Ramon is very reserved in his comment and he never paints a pretty picture for no reason," Motion said. "He was very frustrated."

Even with excuses, Better Talk Now will be a longshot in the BC Turf, which has drawn major stakes winners from the United States and Europe.

"Quite frankly, we're running against the same horses from an American point of view," Motion said. "Obviously, the imports are different.

"He's had a longer year, but he hasn't shown any sign of it bothering him. He's kind of freshened up since the Canadian race. I think a break is important to him."

Owned by Bushwood Stables, Better Talk Now has won 14 of 47 starts and $4,216,664. Saturday's BC Turf will be Better Talk Now's 28th consecutive start in a graded stakes and 36th consecutive start in a stakes of any kind.

In the 2004 BC Turf, Better Talk Now pulled an upset at 27-1, but Bushwood and Motion were forced to sit through a lengthy inquiry after a rough stretch run.

"From a racing point of view, the agony of awaiting for the stewards' inquiry at Lone Star will always be in my mind," Motion said. "It seemed like it was five or 10 minutes; it probably wasn't that long. It was very special. It will be tough to top that day for me in my career."

Proving it was not a fluke, Better Talk Now has won six stakes since that race, including three Grade 1 races - the 2005 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth, the 2005 Man o' War Stakes, and the 2007 Manhattan Handicap.

"Anything since the Breeders' Cup has been gravy to us," Motion said. "It wouldn't have mattered if he'd never won or run after the Breeders' Cup. It was such a special deal for us. We realize how lucky we were to win that race."

Through it all, Motion has tolerated the old gelding's moods.

"He's kind of a grouchy old guy," Motion said. "I think that's part of what makes him so competitive.

"He's a little stubborn going into the gate. Even back at Lone Star, he was stubborn going onto the turf course. This has been a characteristic of his for a long time. I guess he's a little spoiled."