03/26/2008 11:00PM

At the top in two games


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Imagine someone like a former NFL all-star quarterback taking up training Thoroughbreds and making it big. That would be about the position that Mick Channon occupies in England.

Channon, 59, was captain of the English national soccer team nearly 30 years ago. In 46 games playing striker, he scored 21 goals - about enough to make him a national hero in that soccer-crazed land.

"Believe it or not, I used to be slim and light on my feet," Channon said after the World Cup post-position draw Wednesday night, placing hands on a well-fed belly.

Channon has the amiable, devil-may-care air of a former sports star: He wore black jeans and an open-collared shirt to Wednesday's gala affair. But he has brought a couple of serious horses to Dubai. Youmzain finished third in the Sheema Classic last year and has to rate a decent chance Saturday night based on his near miss to Dylan Thomas last fall in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Never mind that Youmzain, who banked $1.5 million in 2006 alone, hasn't won a race of any sort since September 2006.

"Give me a horse that has earned a million pounds a year, and I might start liking losing," Channon said. "This horse only runs in the best races."

Youmzain, a 5-year-old by Sinndar, did little at 2, and only came to hand late in this 3-year-old season. He has not run a truly sub-par race in almost two years, but can be less than straightforward to train.

"He is a bit of a character," Channon said. "Sometimes he won't lead onto the gallops, for instance, just stands there. It'd do no good to beat on him on something. He just has his own way of doing things."

The last time Youmzain was favored to win a race was the last time he won a race, a year and a half ago, and he was an 80-1 shot in the Arc.

"People keep saying he's not good enough, but he keeps running the big ones," Channon said.

Channon, whose stable will house some 200 horses at its peak during summer, has long been known as a buyer and seller of 2-year-olds, often modestly purchased and well sold. Both Youmzain and Group 1 winner Majestic Roi, who starts Saturday in the Duty Free, were purchased for less than $100,000, Channon said.

"No one sends me older horses, so it's nice to have a couple for a change," he said.

Better Talk Now looks to rebound

Trainer Graham Motion looked intently through binoculars Thursday morning as Better Talk Now had a robust gallop around the Nad Al Sheba grass course. Motion liked what he saw Thursday, and liked what he saw from Better Talk Now during the past month well enough to send the horse on his second international excursion.

Making his first start since a toss-out fourth over a boggy course in the Breeders' Cup Turf, Better Talk Now finished a disappointing sixth of 10 in the Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 9 in New Orleans. The race was intended as a prep for Saturday's Sheema Classic, but Better Talk Now's performance left Motion wondering.

"Initially, I was really discouraged with his race, but the more I thought about it, the less it concerned me," Motion said.

Better Talk Now has thrown clunkers before, but a subpar race from a 9-year-old inevitably leads to the question: How much does this horse have left? Motion, after closely monitoring Better Talk Now, feels his longtime stable star still has spark.

"There's a reason this horse has been in and out," Motion said. "The race really has to set up for him."

The Fair Grounds Handicap did not, and when Better Talk Now trained well out of the race, Motion saw no reason not to follow through on the Dubai trip.

Keep in mind that Better Talk Now is a Breeders' Cup Turf winner of more than $4 million and among the best grass horses of recent years in the United States. His one previous international experience, a trip to the 2005 Japan Cup, produced only a 12th-place finish, but things have gone more smoothly for Better Talk Now in Dubai than they did in Japan. There, he battled a foot abscess and did not get to train properly into the race. But this time, Better Talk Now shipped without incident and has settled nicely into the Nad Al Sheba routine. A thin greyhound of a horse, Better Talk Now has looked good in morning work this week.

"I actually think he's put on weight since he came here," Motion said.

So, Better Talk Now may be ready to rebound, but there is one other issue: Top to bottom, the Sheema Classic might be the best race in which he's ever run.

Madjani goes for four straight

In the first race Saturday night, a horse named Madjani will try to make history by winning an unprecedented fourth straight race on Dubai World Cup night. If you have not heard of Madjani, it only means you are not a follower of Arabian racing.

Madjani appears to be an Arabian of exceptional quality, even if the winning 2,000-meter time in Saturday's Kahayla Classic will be some 15 seconds slower than that in the Dubai World Cup. Owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum - who used to ride Arabian races - Madjani has swept to three straight Kahayla Classic wins, including a win last year a few hours before Sheikh Hamdan's champion Invasor won the World Cup itself.