For Carolyn Gray, a long, nervous wait
I’m a Chatterbox with trainer Larry Jones. Photo by The Racing Biz.
by Frank Vespe
A week earlier, Carolyn Gray said, she’d been mucking out stalls at her and her husband Fletcher’s Missouri farm.
On Saturday, though, she was in the winner’s circle at Delaware Park, anxiously awaiting the stewards’ decision as to whether her horse, I’m a Chatterbox, would be taken down from first place in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap after breaking inward, bumping the horse to her inside, and causing a chain reaction that affected runner-up Paid Up Subscriber.
“Well, I have to say it was a déjà vu,” said Fletcher, whose star lost a Grade 1 victory via disqualification last year. “I couldn’t believe it. So it was nerve-wracking.”
Many on-track observers saw the bumping at the gate and assumed the stewards would conduct an inquiry, with or without an objection. But the inquiry sign never came on.
Not for want of trying, however.
According to the stewards’ daily report, “The Stewards did try to post the inquiry sign but the computer system did not take it.”
On returning to unsaddle, Ricardo Santana, Jr., the rider of Paid Up Subscriber, claimed foul against Florent Geroux and I’m a Chatterbox.
And after anxious moments for all parties, the stews decided to leave the winner up.
“As a result of breaking in and the rider on the #4 [I’m a Chatterbox] having to take up and being behind the #1 [Paid Up Subscriber] at that point, along with the #1 never losing stride, the Stewards could see no reason to take any action and made the race official,” the daily report explains.
In other words, there was a foul, but since that foul did not, in the stewards’ opinion, affect the order of finish, there was no cause for action.
Delaware rules are clear that two elements must be present for a disqualification to be called.
“If, in the opinion of the Stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, any offending horse may be disqualified by the Stewards,” the regulations say.
That worked for Gray.
“We’re ecstatic,” she said. “[I’m a Chatterbox has] just been wonderful. She’s consistent and she tries hard, and she loves her work.”
Yet it’s safe to say that Gray’s joy was not unalloyed; there were some complications there.
“It’s so hard — we haven’t had a prohibitive favorite like this,” Gray said of Chatterbox, who went off at 3-5. “I mean, people love her, they just do, and a lot of it’s her name. But it’s so hard to watch everybody gunning for her, and we really haven’t been in that spot before. So I’m always just a little protective because she’s a girl. Don’t be gunning for her.”
Yet gunning for her they are. I’m a Chatterbox has been odds-on in all three of her 2016 starts, and she figures to get plenty of betting support in her next start, possibly, said Gray, in Saratoga. In the longer term, which isn’t all that long-term anymore, a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup is in the offing. Chatterbox finished eighth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
I’m a Chatterbox is a daughter of Munnings out of the stakes-placed Lost Soldier mare Chit Chatter. Though the Grays’ farm, where they have eight active mares, including Chit Chatter, and seven yearlings, is in, of all places, Missouri, I’m a Chatterbox is a Kentucky-bred.
Chatterbox may not be the last Gray-bred runner whose name we’ll hear. Her yearling half-sister seems to be taking charge of the family farm.
“She’s always first at the gate [leaving the barn or returning to it]. but then she stands there and waits for everyone else to come out,” Gray said. “It’s like she’s counting noses, honestly, it’s hilarious. She definitely has a mind of her own, but she’s smart. So we’re kind of excited about her, too.”
If it’s so hard watching rivals gunning for Chatterbox, would Gray prefer for little sis to be the hunter or, like big sis, the hunted?
“It’s just really fun to win. No matter where you are, it just is,” Gray laughed.
“We really appreciate the fact that we bred them and we raised them because they’re like our kids. We’ve seen them since the time they were born,” she added. “It’s just like going to one of your kids’ recitals and having them be the star.”
Except in this case, the kid also earns the family a $450,000 payday. After, or course, a few anxious moments waiting for the stewards.