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BARN NOTES: December 31, 2015

  • ·        I’m a Chatterbox Makes Case for Eclipse
  • ·        Italian Jockey Sirigu Makes American Debut Sunday
  • ·        Eagle Returns to the Work Tab


“She’s the star of the show,” said Carolyn Gray of her stable standout I’m a Chatterbox. “We just feel very blessed to be associated with a champion like her.”

After a year in which she crossed the wire first in five of eight starts – while a disqualification lowered that win tally to four – and earned $1,256,000 over an impressive 11 months, the accomplished daughter of first-crop sire Munnings and Larry Jones trainee has exceeded expectations and is now considered by many as one of the frontrunners for the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly of 2015.

“We are certainly pleased to be in this group and we know it’s going to be a tough vote,” Gray said. “There are certainly some talented fillies, but she deserves serious consideration for the championship. She’s the leading (3-year-old American) money earner and she danced all the big dances and placed or won all of those in the division. She was the first filly to sweep the Fair Grounds series and ran against tough horses from the beginning to the end.

“Whatever happens doesn’t take away from what she did all year long,” Gray continued. “She deserves to be in that spot and we are just so proud of her. She’s given us an awful lot of excitement. Larry and his team have done a wonderful job with our filly and she has the record to show for it.”

Though an infectious character, I’m a Chatterbox is not a beauty queen. She is a racy and plain filly – euphemisms in racing circles that often mean light and ordinary in appearance – but such neck-down features are deceptive. In fact, for those who have had the opportunity to be around the fierce competitor, it is difficult not to become enamored with the bright-eyed beast who is as kind to those who approach her stall door as those who support her at the betting window.

Named co-Horse of the Meet for the 2014-15 Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots season, I’m a Chatterbox developed a considerable fan base when the Gray homebred swept the unofficial triple tiara of sophomore filly stakes with a dexterity rarely seen in young horses. Gunning gate-to-wire in the Listed Silverbulletday Stakes in January, she followed that nine-length romp with a last-to-first 2½-length clinic in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes in February and then stalked and pounced with a much-the-best triumph in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks in March by the same margin.

Unfortunately for the emblazoned chestnut, she saved her two worst starts and widest trips for two of the most heralded 3-year-old filly races of the year. In the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, she was forced to rally five-wide from 11th after a lackluster break, winding up a gaining third behind stablemate Lovely Maria and runner-up Shook Up – both of whom she had easily bested in the Rachel Alexandra – and out-finishing Grade I Santa Anita Oaks winner Stellar Wind for the show. In the Grade I Alabama Stakes at Saratoga in late August two efforts later, she was squeezed at the start, rallied six-wide around and past Grade I winners Lovely Maria and Curalina and fell 1¼ lengths short of loose-on-the-lead Embellish the Lace, while defeating a third Grade I winner – Include Betty – in the process.

Sandwiched between those two runs was a solid effort but ultimately controversial result when she finished first, ahead of Curalina, in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga in late July, but was disqualified to second for drifting out late and impeding that rival.

I’m a Chatterbox received some degree of vengeance next out when she easily bested 10 fillies in the Grade I Cotillion at Parx Racing in late September by a measured two lengths under regular rider Florent Geroux, including Embellish the Lace. In that, she became the only 3-year-old filly to have defeated every two-turn (main track) Grade I-winning sophomore filly of 2015 – an accomplishment that still stands.

“I think she should be champion from the standpoint that she was there all season long and it wasn’t like she showed up mid-season and or ran well in just one or two races,” Jones explained. “She was there for all the big races, she ran very credibly in the Kentucky Oaks, ran a winning race in the Coaching Club (American) Oaks and if they didn’t take her down and she would have kept that one, that would make her a clear-cut choice for champion 3-year-old (filly). They could have had 100 votes that day and it would have likely come down 50-50. All in all, she did very well and the Breeders’ Cup was the only off-the-board finish she had all year. She broke from the rail that day and didn’t have the trip that we’d hoped for – especially because when she wanted to run, there was nowhere to go.

In the meantime, as the powers-that-be decide who will be crowned the Eclipse Award champion on Jan. 16 at Gulfstream Park, I’m a Chatterbox has returned to her comfortable surroundings at her favorite New Orleans oval, while commencing light training.

“Larry said she’s in great shape, is very relaxed and she seems to be happy to be back in the barn,” Gray said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of year she might have, but haven’t even spoken about where she’ll come back. Larry is our campaign manager and he thinks she will be even better this year. She’s easy on herself and likes her work and that’s so important.”

“She arrived here on the 15th of December and it was about 45 days off since the Breeders’ Cup,” Jones added. “We’re in no hurry about bringing her back and are just doing enough to keep her pacified. All I’ve done is gallop her a half a mile every day. We are trying to make her think she’s still in training, while still trying to give her time off.

“The first Grade I is the Apple Blossom,” Jones continued. “That obviously is what we may look at, but we also have a nice filly in (Fox Hill Farms’) Cassatt, so we may send one to California for the (Grade I) Santa Margarita to separate them. We’ll just keep all options open and that includes maybe trying her on the grass. Her mother (Chit Chatter, by Lost Soldier) was a pretty good grass horse and we’ve always thought she might like it, too.”



Italian jockey Paolo Sirigu will make his American riding debut in Sunday’s eighth race at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Born in the town of Nurri, within the Sardinian province of Cagliari, the 31-year-old has been working for the past month for trainer Joe Sharp in the mornings and will be riding Hornsby, Hornsby and Dugal LLC’s Top of the Page in the $25,000 claiming event around 1 1/16 miles on the Stall-Wilson turf course.

A winner of over 200 races in his native country and nine in England, where he currently calls home, Sirigu is one of the top morning riders for the powerful Marco Botti yard. His star pupil back home in Newmarket is Team Valor International’s Grade I-winning Euro Charline, whom he has ridden in the mornings since he began working for Botti over two years ago.

“I’m very excited,” Sirigu said. “It’s all very new to me, but I really want to try American racing and see how it works for me. Obviously I know the local jockeys are very talented and it is exciting to ride with famous jockeys like Patrick Valenzuela. I really have to thank Joe Sharp for giving me the opportunity. (Top of the Page) is in good form and I think we have a good chance.

“I’ve seen a lot of races here and watched Top of the Page’s races and I know that I have to start a little faster and stay a little closer to the lead here,” he continued. “Being about a mile, it all matters how fast they go and the turns are quite tight. If it comes off the grass and is on the dirt, I rode dirt races a lot in Italy. We have four or five racetracks that are like American ones and have proper American dirt.”

Since leaving home at 18 and moving to Rome and Tuscany to develop his craft at its racecourses, Sirigu has worked for accomplished Italian trainers Lorenzo Brogi and Bruno Grizetti as an apprentice and hails from the same region as internationally renowned jockeys Frankie Dettori, Mirco Demuro and his cousin Andrea Atzeni. Since working for Botti, he has had the opportunity to be atop some of Europe’s best turf horses.

“Obviously the competition is hard in England,” he explained. “Jockeys are usually committed to a trainer, so it is hard to get mounts, but I rode some races for Marco (Botti) and placed in a Group III this year. Riding Euro Charline in the mornings is quite special. She is the best and I obviously miss her. She’s tough and particular, but brilliant.”



William S. Farish’s homebred stakes winner Eagle had his first work since an easy and impressive victory in the $75,000 Tenacious Stakes earlier this month, going a half-mile in 49.60 for trainer Neil Howard.

Mike Rutherford’s highly touted Curlin filly Stageplay – a stakes winner who finished second last out in the Grade II $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs – worked a half-mile in 50.40 for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Fox Hill Farm’s well-regarded Cinnamon Spice worked an easy five furlongs in 1:04.40 for trainer Larry Jones. Undefeated since coming into Jones’ care in her third career start, the half-sister to Violence has not raced since April.

Rosemont Farm’s graded stakes-placed juvenile Harlan Punch had the last work of his 2-year-old campaign for trainer Tom Amoss, going five furlongs in 1:02.40.

Comebacking stakes-placed filly Harbour Island, who turns four on Friday, worked five furlongs in 1:03 flat for trainer Al Stall, Jr.

David Davis’ Taylors Angiel, who impressively upset the $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes earlier this month, returned to the tab with an easy half-mile in 51.20 for trainer Karl Broberg.

Restricted stakes-winning Illinois-bred Silver Lode, who was also second in open stakes company in just her second start in August at Arlington, worked an easy half-mile for trainer Doug Matthews and owner TNT Thoroughbreds in 54.80 in advance of her sophomore debut on Jan. 8 at Fair Grounds in a salty allowance/optional claiming event.

Fox Hill Farm’s multiple stakes winner Coup de Grace worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 for trainer Larry Jones.


-Michael Adolphson | Media Specialist, Senior Writer