Better Talk Now, the United Nations, and a Rabbit
by John Piassek
Thursday, June 29, 2017
The passing of Better Talk Now coincided with United Nations week at Monmouth Park. Better Talk Now was one of the great grass horses of the 2000s, with five grade 1 victories, including a score in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf. One of those wins, in the 2005 United Nations, became the source of one of my favorite Monmouth Park memories.
Better Talk Now was dismissed as the 2/1 favorite in the field of nine in that race, off a fourth-place finish in the Dixie Stakes at Pimlico. One of those horses was a horse without any interest in winning: his rabbit, Shake the Bank.
Also owned by Bushwood Farm and trained by Graham Motion, Shake the Bank was a grass horse several leagues below Better Talk Now’s status. Going into the U.N, Shake the Bank had lost ten races in a row, most recently finishing eighth in the Mister Gus Stakes at Arlington Park. While BTN would be rideen by the Hall of Famer Ramon Dominguez, Shake the Bank would get veteran journeyman Tommy Turner on board.
Why would a horse of the quality of Shake the Bank even bother to show up? Well, he was entered as a rabbit, or a horse in a race specifically to ensure a fast pace for another horse. Shake the Bank was a confirmed front-runner, while Better Talk Now was a deep closer. Therefore, the plan was to have Shake the Bank set a fast early pace for a few furlongs, stop, and then let Better Talk Now do the rest of the running. Of course, reality would up playing out a little differently.
When the gates opened, the 106/1 rabbit went straight to the early lead. Even though the pace was not especially fast, no one wanted to challenge Shake the Bank for the lead. As the field entered the home stretch of the 1 3/8 mile marathon for the first time, Shake the Bank had a six-length lead. After a half-mile, he led by ten lengths. On the backstretch, his lead approached fifteen lengths. Better Talk Now was languishing in last, more than 21 lengths behind his free-wheeling stablemate.
Things started to get interesting on the far turn. With three furlongs to go, Shake the Bank still had a gigantic lead. The Monmouth Park crowd of 12,335 began to stir, as they began to understand the possibility that this horse, entered without any expectation of winning whatsoever, could steal this prestigious grade 1 race. The field entered the stretch, and Shake the Bank was still leading the way. He led the way up until the final eighth mile, when reality began to set in, and the field caught up to the rouge rabbit. Better Talk Now whizzed his way through the pack, and got up to win by 3/4 of a length over Silverfoot. Shake the Bank ultimately beat one horse home, longshot Gunning For.
Shake the Bank wound up being a companion of Better Talk Now throughout the 2005 racing season, even though he never again came that close to winning. He finished eleventh in the Man O’War Stakes next out, followed by a last-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Of course, in both of those races, he acted as a rabbit for Better Talk Now. The plan worked like a charm in the former race, not so much in the latter race.
In fact, the rabbit-champion pair competed in the 2006 United Nations. Sent off at 84/1, Shake the Bank set a much more moderate three-length lead, and flattened out well before the stretch run. Better Talk Now never fired, and finished just one place above his rabbit.
Better Talk Now had a fascinating and a fantastic career, and will live on in the memories of many racing fans. For me, I’ll never forget him for one day at Monmouth Park, when his trusty sidekick almost lived the impossible dream.