At age 8, turf star Better Talk Now has shown no sign of slowing down as he heads into Saturday's $750,000 United Nations Presented by TVG (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park.
One of five entered for the 1 3/8-mile United Nations, the Talkin Man gelding goes in the U.N. for the third time in three seasons. He's already had a victory in the grass test, and is sitting on ready to add another, trainer Graham Motion says.
"This horse is as good now as he's ever been, if not better," Motion said during a conference call sponsored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "I couldn't be happier with this horse right now. He is much more relaxed now than he ever was before."
Better Talk Now, who was born Feb. 25, 1999, proved Motion's point in his last start on June 9, when he rallied gamely along the rail to win Belmont's 1 1/4-mile Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) by a head over the 5-year-old English Channel -- who will be his main foe again on Saturday.
The victory was Better Talk Now's 14th in a career of 39 starts (35 on grass), and brought his earnings to $3,819,788.
Owned by Bushwood Stables, Better Talk Now won the 2005 running of the U.N. with a determined rally along the rail. Last year, he was stuck on the outside most of the way, and never got to launch a rally as he ran fifth behind the winning English Channel.
"Last year, the course favored horses more to the outside," the trainer said. "Maybe I'm just using that as an excuse, but that's how we felt after the race."
Motion has mapped out a short-term schedule that includes the U.N., the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) at Saratoga, and the Man o' War (gr. IT) at Belmont. The primary goal -- but unspoken so far -- is the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), which will be run at Monmouth on Oct. 27. Better Talk Now won the BC Turf at Lone Star Park in 2004. But another U.N., and another Breeders' Cup would add an exclamation point to his -- and the trainer's career.
"He's definitely the horse of a career," Motion said. "I'll never have another like him."
James Scaturochio's English Channel, a stakes winner on grass at 3, really blossomed last season when he won three grade I events, including the United Nations and the Turf Classic at Belmont. He finished third in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and this year has raced in Florida, Dubai and New York coming into the U.N.
Scaturochio said he and trainer Todd Pletcher have talked about experimenting with English Channel on a surface other than turf.
"We've discussed running him in a stakes over Polytrack," Scatuorchio said. "With his pedigree (Smart Strike -Belva, by Theatrical) and running style, Todd had him pegged as a turf horse from the beginning, and he's never run on anything but grass. But it would be interesting to see how he'd do on a synthetic surface.
English Channel and Better Talk Now drew the inside posts for Saturday's test with Better Talk Now carrying top weight of 122 pounds, four more than his rival.
$750,000 United Nations Stakes (gr. IT, Race 9, 4:53 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. English Channel (KY), 118, John R. Velazquez
2. Better Talk Now (KY), 122, Ramon A. Dominguez
3. Embossed (IRE), 118, Eddie Castro
4. Fri Guy (KY), 118, Joe Bravo
5. Honey Ryder (KY), 115, Garrett K. Gomez