Don't expect something as trivial as drawing the rail in the $2 million Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) to bother Fletcher and Carolyn Gray, the breeder-owners of I'm a Chatterbox. After all, when you've spent $12,500 on a stud fee, bought back the resultant yearling for $30,000, and have earned better than $1.3 million to date with the filly, you're deep into playing with the house's money.
"It's not a big deal," Carolyn Gray said the morning after the post position draw. "She's won from the rail and she's won at Keeneland. We'd rather be there than on the outside. We're 'the glass is half-full' kind of people."
As well they should be. Both natives of Missouri, the Grays were both unhappy and working at the same hospital when they found each other, quit their jobs, and decided to try to make a living breeding and selling Thoroughbreds. The default reaction of their acquaintances was to offer up the names of good psychiatrists, but the Grays were anything but naïve in entering their new profession.
Fletcher had trained and raced Quarter Horses around the Midwest, and Carolyn decided to enroll in the equine program at Louisiana Tech. They traveled to Kentucky and picked as many top horsemen's brains as they could. Ben Walden Sr. steered them toward buying the Dr. Blum mare Marshesseaux in 1992, and out of her the Grays bred stakes winners Marsheslew and Flag On the Play. Bred to French Deputy, she issued champion Left Bank, co-bred by the Grays.
The couple subsequently purchased the mare My White Corvette and, after deciding to breed to first-year sire Tapit , were rewarded when Stardom Bound won the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), becoming Tapit's first grade I winner. The Grays, who paid $90,000 for My White Corvette, sold her for $825,000. That's two champions bred or co-bred by the couple from a broodmare band of seven.
"It's pretty mind-boggling for us that we've bred two champions," said Carolyn a couple of years back, "but we're looking to raise a third one."
And I'm a Chatterbox is one win away from gifting them with that trifecta. The Grays in 2008 purchased the mare Chit Chatter for $87,000 and bred her to Munnings , who wasn't on anybody's radar at the time. They liked the athletic filly they raised at their Grayson Farm near Pleasant Hope, Mo., but nobody else much did at the yearling sale, where they bought her back and eventually put her in training with Larry Jones.
I'm a Chatterbox has knocked off three graded stakes wins this year including the grade I Cotillion Stakes, and would have landed another grade I if not for a misconceived disqualification in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Although they have quite enjoyed breeding top horses, the Grays are particularly fond of racing their own product this time.
"We can't ever recall having this much fun," Carolyn Gray said. "We can't believe she's ours. Watching her, we just kind of puff up."
Never worse than fourth in her 10 lifetime starts, I'm a Chatterbox ran a very solid third in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and is right in the mix for an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old filly. That title is up for grabs in the Distaff.
"All systems are go," Gray said Oct. 27. "She's happy, Larry's happy. She's going to make them run to beat her."
The glass may be half-full, but if I'm a Chatterbox can get home first in the Distaff, the trophy case at Grayson is going to be absolutely brimming.