Better Talk Now, under confident handling from Ramon Dominguez, won the $500,000 Man o'War (gr. IT) in the final strides by a neck over King's Drama on the Belmont Park turf Saturday.
The 6-year-old Talkin Man gelding, trained by Graham Motion for Bushwood Stable, earned his second grade I victory in his last three starts. He won the United Nations (gr. IT) at Monmouth July 2 before finishing fourth in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) in his last outing.
The 3-1 choice in a field of 10 betting interests, Better Talk Now ran fourth in last year's Man o'War before winning the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) on a yielding course at Lone Star Park.
"I think that in the Breeders' Cup, there will be a legitimate pace," said Motion. "It's amazing to me how little respect this horse gets. I don't think any horse in any division has accomplished in the last year what he has."
Reserved toward the rear of the 1 3/8-mie event, Dominguez roused Better Talk Now on the far turn and the bay responded. He split horses coming off the turn and made solid progress through the lane to reach King's Drama and Relaxed Gesture on the outside in deep stretch. He prevailed under hand urging from Dominguez, who did not use his whip. The final time was a sparkling 2:11 3/5 on firm going, three-fifths of a second off the track record.
"Once I got him clear down the lane, he was very determined to win," Dominguez said. "It was nice winning on a course like this because some people said he couldn't win on firm ground. The turf is very firm."
"It was really a team effort," Motion added. "We had trouble with one of Better Talk Now's hooves. My blacksmith has been working on him for three days, and put a patch on him. Ramon has the utmost confidence in this horse. He's not an easy horse to ride. I think he's getting better, to be honest. This was the perfect prep.
"He does well with time between his races. Knock on wood, we can keep him sound. My dream has always been to get him back to the Breeders' Cup."
King's Drama, ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Bobby Frankel, edged Relaxed Gesture and Corey Nakatani by a half-length for second. Both were prominent from the start as they chased Shake the Bank, who led by seven lengths on the backstretch. Shake the Bank, the entry mate for Better Talk Now, did his job, setting a good pace of :24, :47 1/5 and 1:11 before giving way to Relaxed Gesture and King's Drama, with Beverly D (gr. IT) winner Angara also in striking distance. But the filly fell back in the stretch as Better Talk Now gained ground on the leaders.
King's Drama was particularly game between horses.
"I thought I had a perfect trip," said Velazquez. "When I asked him, he responded and gave me good run. His horse was just a tiny bit better than mine today."
Bred by Wimborne Farm in Kentucky, Better Talk Now won for the 11th time in 30 career starts while pushing his earnings to $2,622,077.
The lukewarm choice paid $8.10, $4.30, and $2.60. The Irish-bred King's Drama, who won the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) in his last start at Saratoga, returned $5.80 and $3.40. Relaxed Gesture, who finished second in the Sword Dancer, was $2.50 to show as the second favorite.
Trainer Christophe Clement thought he could build on Relaxed Gesture's third-place finish.
"The race didn't unfold the way I thought it would unfold," Clement said. "I thought we would be sitting behind King's Drama and make one late run. We wound up leading the second group. The jockey said the horse was very comfortable. The horse didn't quit, we just got out-finished by the other two horses. The time of the race was very good. The Breeders' Cup is a possibility."
Vangelis finished fourth, followed by Angara, Dreadnaught, Stage Call, Rousing Victory, Victory Circle, Swordsman, and Shake the Bank.