Better Talk Now, still a standout on grass at the age of 8, is the elder statesman in Saturday's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park. The Talkin Man gelding will be making his fourth appearance in the 1 1/2-mile race, which he won in 2004 at Lone Star Park and finished second in last year at Churchill Downs.
"I'll never have another one like him," said Better Talk Now's trainer, Graham Motion. "He's unique because of his longevity, his durability, his personality and also because of the fact that he's a stone-cold trier."
According to the trainer, just about everybody wants to know if the Bushwood Stables runner has started to lose a little bit of his competitive edge.
"My answer to that is no," Motion said. "I don't see him losing a step at this point, and, if anything, I think he is better than when he was a 4- or 5-year-old. Not only is he a remarkable athlete, he's matured physically and mentally. He's settled down a lot, and he's a lot more forgiving of us lately. When we ran in the Turf at Lone Star, he bit the crap out of my wife a couple of days before the race. He's still pretty cantankerous, but we’ve gotten used to his ways."
Better Talk Now kicked off his 2007 campaign in May, finishing fourth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) at Churchill. He then defeated English Channel by a head in the Manhattan Turf Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont.
In the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth in July, Better Talk Now was third behind English Channel and Honey Ryder. Better Talk Now struck himself on his left front ankle during that race, and he hasn't run since because of complications associated with the injury.
"It's something he's always done throughout his career, but this time it was a little worse than usual," Motion said. "I didn't want to make a big deal about it at the time, but because it was such a significant injury, it does make me wonder how much it bothered him during the race."
Following the United Nations, the ankle appeared to heal quickly. But then it became infected, and Better Talk Now had to miss two weeks of training. Then, when he returned to the track, he was sore, which slowed his progress.
"Now, knock on wood, it all seems to be behind him," Motion said.
The wet weather in the week leading up to the Breeders' Cup and the possibility of showers on Breeders' Cup Day should be to Better Talk Now's advantage, according to his trainer.
"He's won on very firm ground, but he actually prefers it to be softer," Motion said. "He likes for it to have a little give in it, which is what I would hope we would get in the Turf. Since they've redone the turf course at Monmouth, he hasn't seemed to handle it quite as well. It's like a lot of American turf courses now; they drain so well that they've become like paved roads in the summer. But with the rain, there will be a huge difference."
This year might be Better Talk Now's last chance to get another Turf victory.
"It's just hard for me to imagine that as a 9-year-old he would come back to this level," Motion said. "I think we’ve got to believe that he's in the twilight of his career. Ever since he won the Breeders' Cup in Texas, he's never owed us anything, and if he had ever given us any indication that he couldn't handle racing anymore, we wouldn't run him. But while I don’t think he's going to be as good this time next year, at the same time, it's possible. Part of it, I think, is I have to prepared myself mentally for when he's gone. Sometimes you just take it for granted you can do these things year in and year out, but that's just not the way it is."