With every gritty effort from I’m a Chatterbox in her now 16-race career, Carolyn Gray struggles to find words for the emotions her beloved chestnut filly inspires.
As Gray and her husband, Fletcher, walked through the Keeneland tunnel Sunday evening after the most visually impressive outing their homebred runner has produced, she pointed to pin on her shoulder depicting celestial beauty and let that symbol do some of the talking for her.
“It’s the moon and the stars, and that’s what we always talk about is reaching for the moon and the stars,” Carolyn Gray said. “And that’s what this filly is. She’s such a blessing.”
After taking her connections on some emotional roller coasters the past couple of seasons, I’m a Chatterbox produced sustained elation Sunday as the 4-year-old daughter of Munnings put away pacesetter Paid Up Subscriber around the far turn en route to a devastating seven-length victory in the Grade I, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.
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The 2016 season has been a particularly salty one in the distaff ranks with unbeaten champion Songbird tearing through the 3-year-old division with consummate ease and fellow champions Stellar Wind and Beholder trading blows leading up what is expected to be an epic edition of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 4.
Having now earned her second Grade I win this year, I’m a Chatterbox has to be included in the deep pool of female contenders that also features multiple top-level winner Forever Unbridled. Whether she is good enough to avenge her eighth-place finish in the last year’s Distaff remains to be seen. But based off the exploits he saw in the Spinster, trainer Larry Jones won’t be lacking for confidence when he leads his charge over four weeks from now.
“With Rick Porter owning (Songbird), my job may be on the line,” laughed Jones, referencing his longtime relationship of training horses for Porter’s Fox Hill Farm. “I might lose Fox Hill horses. And he knows I don’t really want to beat him, but you have to do what you have to do.
“I think this may be the deepest Distaff that I have seen in a long time. There are seven really good horses and I’m putting (Chatterbox) right there with them.”
I’m a Chatterbox has always been right there with the best of her class, winning eight of 16 starts and only finishing off the board three times in her career. She has packed more muscle onto her lean chestnut frame this year, and her speed figures have reflected that of a horse who is still improving.
In her first outing after finishing fourth in a contentious edition of the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27, I’m a Chatterbox sat a perfect stalking trip in second behind Paid Up Subscriber as that one took the five-horse field through an opening half mile in :48.30. When jockey Florent Geroux let the reins out on I’m a Chatterbox around the far turn, the chestnut filly exploded into the lane and drew off under some left-handed urging to hit the wire in 1:49.98 for 1 1/8 -miles, giving her jockey a sweep of the day’s graded stakes.
“Today she broke very sharp, which allowed us to take a great position,” said Geroux, who also won the Grade III Dixiana Bourbon Stakes aboard Gary Barber’s Keep Quiet. “When I asked her to go down the lane, she gave me a very nice kick. I was like, ‘Wow. They’re going to have to go fast to catch me.’”
The Spinster was marred by the fatal breakdown of Judy B. Hicks’s Miss Pink Diva, who went wrong going around the first turn and had to be euthanized with a left hind ankle injury. Trained by Buff Bradley, Miss Pink Diva was making her 14th career start and had most recently run second in the Grade III Locust Grove at Churchill Downs on Sept. 17.
The first time I’m a Chatterbox crossed the wire first in a Grade I race, she was disqualified to second due to interference in the 2015 edition of the Coaching Club American Oaks. She has made up for that with three Grade I triumphs since and, with a 5-year-old campaign likely next year, her pinnacle may still be to come.
“She knows when she wins and she was so mad at Saratoga when she didn’t,” Carolyn Gray said. “She’s just the dream of a lifetime.”