12/02/2004 1:00AM

Something left to prove

Better Talk Now can solidify his credentials as a candidate for champion turf male with a victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Better Talk Now was the rough-housing spoiler when he won the Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30. He forced Magistretti to check in early stretch, Kitten's Joy to alter course, and bumped with Powerscourt.

After he won by 1 3/4 lengths and survived a lengthy inquiry, Better Talk Now had scored the most important win of his career, and moved into contention for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf male.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, Better Talk Now has a chance to enhance his championship hopes when he starts as a heavy favorite in the $250,000 at 1 1/2 miles.

The race marks a sizable drop in class for Better Talk Now, who races for Bushwood Racing Partners and trainer Graham Motion.

Better Talk Now won the Sword Dancer at Saratoga in August, and will try for his third Grade 1 win of the year in the Turf Cup. Motion realizes that Better Talk Now's 27-1 upset in the Grade 1 BC Turf, and the circumstances of the win, has left the 5-year-old gelding with more to do if he is to win the Eclipse Award over Kitten's Joy.

"There's no doubt there will be his naysayers with the interference in the Breeders' Cup," Motion said. "I think the stewards made the right decision. He'll have to prove he can do it again."

Better Talk Now has eight rivals in the Turf Cup, but none is a winner of a Grade 1 race in the United States this year.

Two of Better Talk Now's top opponents are mares - Megahertz and Moscow Burning, both graded stakes winners this year. Bobby Frankel, who won four of the seven races in the Autumn Turf Festival over Thanksgiving weekend, starts the Brazilian import License to Run and Megahertz.

License to Run has won four of his eight starts, including a Group 1 stakes at 1 1/2 miles in Brazil in April. A 4-year-old colt, License to Run has not started since finishing 16th of 18 as the 5-2 favorite in a Group 1 over 1 1/2 miles on turf in May.

Frankel is taking a guarded approach to what License to Run can do, and where he may be as the race unfolds.

"Until you run him you don't really know," he said.

Better Talk Now will be at the back of the field early, a style that worked in the Sword Dancer and BC Turf and earned him a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park in July.

Up until that point, Better Talk Now had run in stakes this year at Sam Houston, Pimlico, and Monmouth Park, and the losses had left Motion unsure about the gelding's best distance. A conversation with jockey Ramon Dominguez after the Bowling Green put Better Talk Now on course for distance races.

"Believe it or not, I wasn't sure that I wouldn't shorten him up a little bit," Motion said. "Ramon made the comment that the farther he goes, the better. Clearly, distance is his game. The Bowling Green answered a lot of questions. That gave us the confidence to go to the Sword Dancer.

"The key to him is getting him to relax. That's Ramon's style. The couple of bad races that he ran were when he didn't settle. Ramon obviously has got the horse figured out."

There should be ample pace for Better Talk Now to follow. Habaneros, the upset winner of the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 23, can lead along with Moscow Burning, who won the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at Belmont in June.

Megahertz, who is seeking her 10th stakes win, is likely to be in midpack. Frankel dismissed her 11th-place finish in the BC Filly and Mare Turf because of a yielding turf course and a wide trip. Another concern is the Turf Cup distance of 1 1/2 miles.

"You always worry about it," he said, "but I think she'll be able to handle it."

The field

Hollywood Turf Cup
Purse: $250,000; 1 1/2 miles turf; Grade 1

1BalestriniM. Smith12620-1
2Puerto BanusK. Desormeaux1266-1
3Better Talk NowR. Dominguez1266-5
4License to RunG. Gomez1266-1
5Moscow BurningJ. Valdivia1235-1
6HabanerosD. Flores12615-1
7PellegrinoG. Stevens1268-1
8MegahertzR. Douglas1235-1
9HatifT. Baze12630-1

* Odds by Art Gropper