I’m a Chatterbox ‘bigger and stronger’ as she begins her 4-year-old campaign

Profile Picture: James Scully

April 20th, 2016

A four-time stakes winner in 2015, I’m a Chatterbox ranked at or near the top of the 3-year-old filly division the entire year but the Larry Jones-trained chestnut didn’t deliver her best in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), winding up eighth. That performance cost her championship honors as the Fletcher and Carolyn Gray homebred wound up second in the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award voting to Stellar Wind.

Friday marks a new season for I’m a Chatterbox, who will embark on her 4-year-old campaign in the $100,000 Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland.

She figures to be an overwhelming favorite versus eight rivals in the 1 1/16-mile race and connections hope the Doubledogdare will serve as a springboard to bigger accomplishments in 2016.

“She’s doing well and we feel that like she’s matured the way you hope 3-year-olds do as they turn into 4-year-olds,” Jones said. “She’s a little bigger and stronger, so it looks like we’ve got room for a good year. She’s training very well, seems a little more relaxed than she was as a 3-year-old, so we’re excited.

“Looking forward to it, ready to get started.”

The 2016 distaff division is deep, with the top four finishers from the Breeders’ Cup Distaff also returning along with three-time champion Beholder, who is getting ready for her 6-year-old season.

But expectations still run very high for the Grade 1-winning I’m a Chatterbox, who has earned more than $1.3 million from an 11-5-2-2 record. The Grays are in the breeding business and nearly retired their prized possession last fall.

“She was still wanting to race and that’s why we brought her back as a 4-year-old,” said Carolyn Gray, who oversees Grayson Farm in Missouri along with her husband Fletcher.  “We’re going to pick our spots carefully with her because we don’t think she has too much to prove.”

After winning one of three starts as a juvenile, I’m a Chatterbox was transferred to Jones at the start of her 3-year-old season.

“She got real good, real quick at Fair Grounds,” Jones said of her early development last year.

I’m a Chatterbox swept the three stakes for the Kentucky Oaks at the New Orleans track – the Silverbulletday, Rachel Alexandra (3) and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) – before heading to Churchill Downs. However, she broke a step slowly and was forced to alter course multiple times while trying to rally through traffic in a 14-horse field, winding up a respectable third.

“She got shuffled back a little farther than she wanted to be, and I think the same thing happened to others as well, it’s a race where everybody’s trying to get into the game,” said Jones, who wound up winning the Kentucky Oaks for the third time with the Brereton Jones-owned Lovely Maria. “I know Lovely Maria got a good, clean trip.

“You don’t get to draw your plans every time, the same thing happened to I’m a Chatterbox in the Breeders’ Cup. When it came time to go, we were just in so tight she never got a shot to get into her best running style.”

I’m a Chatterbox returned from a near three-month freshening last summer with a pair of top-class performances at Saratoga, finishing first in the Coaching Club Oaks (G1) before being disqualified to second for drifting out late; and a runner-up performance in the prestigious Alabama (G1).

“She ran a huge race in the (Coaching Club Oaks), the other filly (Curalina) wasn’t going to go by us and (the interference) happened right on the wire,” Jones said. “I told Todd Pletcher (trainer of Curalina) it’s a good thing this isn’t in Kentucky because this wouldn’t happen in Kentucky, they wouldn’t have taken her down.”

I’m a Chatterbox is one of only four horses in training presently for the Grays, who sell most of the stock they breed.

“There was nothing wrong with her, she just wasn’t a big, robust filly and that’s kind of what the market likes now,” Carolyn Gray said. “We took a shot at racing her and it worked out well.”

Jones loves training for the couple.

“They breed to sell and they race what they like that doesn’t sell or meet their reserve,” Jones said. “They’ve been so successful, breeding a champion filly in Stardom Bound and other stakes-winning horses that they’ve raised on that little farm in Missouri. They have just done phenomenal producing horses.

“They do a really good job with the horses, they treat everything with a whole lot of common sense. They do it the old-fashion way and boy it works.”

The Grays don’t interfere when it comes to picking spots for their horses.

“We’ve had the same agreement all along with Larry: the horses tell him and he tells us what the schedule is,” Carolyn Gray said of the 59-year-old native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, who recently recorded his 1,000th victory as a trainer. “He’s the best, he’s the top of the heap.”

Jones said if all goes as expected in the Doubledogdare, I’m a Chatterbox will likely target the $1 million Ogden Phipps (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The $750,000 Delaware H. (G1) on July 5 could also be on her agenda.

“We’ve got some big races picked out this summer and hopefully all will go well, we’ve just got to get it started this week,” Jones said.

First Photo: I’m a Chatterbox training recently courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography

Second Photo: I’m a Chatterbox heading to the track with Jones courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography