Bushwood Stable's Better Talk Now picked a fine spot to earn his first victory of the 2004 season, taking the $500,000 Sword Dancer Handicap (gr. IT) in his first grade I attempt on the grass at Saratoga Race Course Saturday.Ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Better Talk Now flew down the center of the course to win the Sword Dancer while pulling away over Request for Parole for a 1 1/2-length victory.H. Graham Motion trains the 5-year-old Talkin Man gelding who had put in two solid races leading up to this 1 ½-mile turf event, including a strong second to Kicken Kris in Bowling Green (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park a month ago. The final time was 2:28 2/5 on a yielding turf for the 1 1/2-mile event. Kicken Kris won the Arlington Million (gr. IT) via disqualification a short time after the Sword Dancer was run."The owners follow the sheets very carefully and they are very diligent in their handicapping," Motion said. "They pretty much pick the spots for this horse, obviously, with my input. He's a horse that is not easy to ride. But things are really falling into place lately. I thought the pace was legitimate. I knew the ground had to be very soft. I could see how relaxed our horse was and I knew they wouldn't let Balto Star get away with an easy pace. I felt confident."The turf course was graded as soft at the start of the day after heavy rains hit on Friday, but upgraded to yielding by the fourth race. That influenced the crowd, the majority of whom figured Balto Star's speed would carry the day. True to form, Balto Star took the lead through fractions of :24 2/5; :49 4/5; 1:15 and 1:40 1/5. But as he wilted in the stretch, Request for Parole, who had gathered momentum on the final turn, took the lead. He appeared ready to give trainer Stanley Hough his second Sword Dancer victory.But Dominguez, swung Better Talk Now out in the center of the lane, and his mount delivered with style."That was very great," Dominguez said of his first New York grade I victory. "I felt like I had a lot of horse, but once you get them out, you never know if they're going to respond. When I got him out, he responded so nicely."The next stop for Better Talk Now will likely be the $500,000 Man o'War (gr. IT) at 11 furlongs on Sept. 11 at Belmont Park.
"He tried hard and that's all I can ask from him," Hough said. "I can't use a soft turf course as an excuse, because he handled it well. Of course, I was concerned about that."Although Balto Star, the 3-2 favorite ran third, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez had nothing to be disappointed about. Velazquez won four on the day, two of which were for Pletcher, including the A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II) with Speightstown, who equaled Spanish Riddle's 32-year-old track record for six furlongs (1:08)."(Balto Star) ran great," Pletcher said. "The course was too soft for his liking because Johnny said the horse bobbled a couple of times. Still, he ran hard and he ran his race. I would love to take another shot with him on firmer ground."Rochester, Silverfoot and B.A. Way followed. Better Talk Now, who won for the seventh time in 22 career starts while padding his bankroll to $679,447, paid $17.80, $6.40 and $3.60. Request for Parole returned $3.30 and $2.50. Balto Star's show was $2.60. The exacta was $53.50.(Chart, Equibase)