Better Talk Now was all about being tough. He was a constant challenge for trainer Graham Motion and a regular source of angst for on-track rivals trying to withstand the relentless nature of his closing kick.
He was no one's pet, but he was one of the great ambassadors of Motion's Herringswell Stables. The breakout runner put his conditioner on the map and still dutifully took visitors at his paddock at Fair Hill Training Center.
Better Talk Now's mettle was showcased and heralded until his final moments this week when Herringswell Stables announced June 28 that the five-time grade 1 winner was euthanized late June 27 at New Bolton Center due to complications from colic surgery. The dark bay gelded son of Talkin Man was 18.
While much of the racing world knows Better Talk Now as the 27-1 upset winner of the 2004 John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T)—besting a group that included eventual divisional champion Kitten's Joy —he was simply 'Blackie' to Motion and his team, coming to Fair Hill as a 3-year-old in 2002 and remaining there until his final weeks.
Bushwood Stables' veteran runner initially underwent colic surgery at New Bolton June 7 and had to undergo a second surgery June 15. The complications proved too much for Better Talk Now to overcome.
"Bushwood Stables is sad to announce that Better Talk Now was euthanized June 27 at age 18 due to complications from colic," owner Brent Johnson of Bushwood said in a statement. "He displayed the same toughness fighting his final battle as he did when showing his special talents on the track that won him so many fans in the racing world.
"We would like to thank New Bolton Center, and especially Dr. Janet Johnston, for their dedication and care of Better Talk Now over these past few weeks. We are confident he was in great hands and that his well-being was always the number one priority during this difficult time."
The Herringswell Stables team added that a small group spent Tuesday evening with Better Talk Now and reached his former regular rider, Hall of Famer Ramon Dominguez, via Facetime for a final visit.
"What a character he was—willful, opinionated, often cantankerous. But always a star, and he knew it," Herringswell posted in a statement on its website. "It was Blackie's way or the highway. He mellowed a bit in retirement and never failed to realize when visitors had come especially to see him. And come they did; his following was huge and fiercely loyal.
"His passing, just like his presence, leaves a massive impact."
Better Talk Now tested Motion's training ability with his obstinate ways, a fitting scenario considering he ended up serving as his conditioner's first Breeders' Cup hero. Unruly as a youngster, it wasn't until age 4 that Better Talk Now notched his first graded stakes win, taking the 2003 Knickerbocker Handicap (G2T).
Once paired with Dominguez, the two developed remarkable chemistry that carried the team to the top level, first taking the 2004 Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (G1T) and then delivering a powerful performance with a rally down the Lone Star Park stretch to take the Breeders' Cup Turf by 1 3/4 lengths.
Those outings proved just a snippet of what was to come. Often paired in the starting gate with his rabbit, Shake the Bank, Better Talk Now would go on to capture the 2005 United Nations Stakes (G1T) and that year's Man o' War Stakes (G1T) before finishing off the board in his Breeders' Cup title defense. His veteran legs still had fire in them, however, as he returned to run second in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf and then captured the 2007 Manhattan Stakes (G1T) over another eventual champion in English Channel .
That edition of the Manhattan would go down as Better Talk Now's final triumph. He retired after his 2009 season with 14 wins from 51 starts and $4,356,664 in earnings. He resided for the rest of his days at Fair Hill in a paddock alongside Gala Spinaway, Motion's first stakes winner.
"We would also like to thank Graham and Anita Motion and all the people at Herringswell Stables for the unsurpassed care Better Talk Now received in his retirement," Johnson said. "We cannot express how grateful we are that they wanted to keep Blackie with them when his racing days ended. He truly had a wonderful retirement, although we all wish it could have lasted a bit longer.
"It was truly a gift to be associated with such an amazing equine athlete and to enjoy an incredible eight racing seasons watching his talent flourish. He took us places few ever get to go, and we will be forever grateful to have had him in our lives."