In a thrilling finish, 8-year-old Better Talk Now showed the youngsters how the game is played, getting through on the hedge, then coming off to split horses before diving back to the inside to squeak out a rousing head victory in the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) (VIDEO) on the Belmont Park turf Saturday.
Under Ramon Dominguez, Better Talk Now won the most thrilling finish of the day, with three horses hitting the wire together after 10 furlongs on turf. Last behind a slow pace after six furlongs, he just edged the 3-2 favorite English Channel and John Velazquez, who was making his first start since returning from Dubai March 31. Shakis, who was on the outside, finished third with Alan Garcia, a nose behind the runner-up.
Owned by Bushwood Stable and trained by Graham Motion, the dark bay gelding Better Talk Now was making just his second start of the year, having finished fourth, beaten less than two lengths after steadying late in the Turf Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day.
"It’s hard to believe but this horse is getting better," Motion said. "He’s more settled and more relaxed. He really shouldn’t have been able to close like that into those fractions. He is an unbelievable horse. Ramon rode him beautifully today; he has so much confidence in him. I don’t think people gave this horse enough credit for his race at Churchill. He got completely knocked off his feet the last sixteenth."
Motion said he'll consider the United Nations and then the Sword Dancer (both gr. IT) for Better Talk Now's next start.
Red Zipper made the lead out of the gate, followed by Cosmonaut and Kiss the Kid. The were running slow up front, the quarter in :25.3, the half in :50.58, and six furlongs in 1:14.95.
As the turned for home, Dominguez had Better Talk Now moving up the inside but he had to come out and split horses before moving to the inside of English Channel. He got up in the final strides even as the game Shakis closed stoutly after altering course mid-stretch.
"Early in the race, he became so much more settled," Dominguez said. "It was great to see him off the bridle. As we got to the backside, I had the feeling they were going a bit slow. From there, the horse just galloped beautifully. I was able to save ground. At the sixteenth-pole, he was able to come up the rail. It was amazing to come through after the slow fractions.”
Sent off as the second choice in the field of eight, the son of Talkin Man paid $8.70, $3.90, and $2.90 while English Channel returned $3.50 and $2.60. Shakis paid $4.70 to show.
English Channel finished 12th in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) last time when he was bumped off stride and weakened.
“He’s been a little bit unlucky in this race," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "The last two years, he’s been beaten a couple of heads and a neck. He ran well first time back from Dubai. He’s probably best at a mile and three-eighths to a mile and a half.”
"He started fighting back when he saw the other horses," said Velazquz of the favorite. "Then (Better Talk Now) got through on the inside. By then, there was nothing we could do.”
The Irish-bred Shakis won his U.S. debut on the Belmont inner turf May 25 after transferring from Dubai for Shadwell.
"With a little more time between races, he might have been able to run a little bit better," said trainer Kiaran McLauglin.
Better Talk Now, out of the Baldski mare Bendita, was bred in Kentucky by Wimborne Farm. The old timer won for the 14th time in 39 starts and increased his earnings to $3,819,788.
It was just a half-length back to Cosmonaut, who drew clear in upper stretch after fighting the pace and weakening in the final yards. Red Zipper, Minister's Joy, Kiss the Kid and Steppenwolfer followed.