Fletcher and Carolyn Gray are used to watching their homebreds succeed at high levels, but usually they're doing so from the comfort of their couch at home in Pleasant Hope, Mo. On Feb. 21 though, the Grays were on site at the Fair Grounds when their filly I'm a Chatterbox took home a Grade 3 victory and 50 Kentucky Oaks points in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes.
“Being at the races is a totally different experience,” said Carolyn Gray. “The experience of seeing one of your own that you've bred and owned at that level cross the finish line is a dream of a breeder.”
The couple have made their living as commercial breeders since the 1990s, keeping five or six mares on their Grayson Farm. As each horse grows, the Grays have to decide whether they are right for the yearling marketplace.
“We have always backed our horses,” said Gray. “That's been our philosophy all along, that we haven't expected anyone to buy something that we wouldn't buy.”
Not every horse makes the cut. When Chit Chatter delivered her chestnut foal by Munnings in March 2012, both were healthy, but the filly was never as big and strapping as her classmates. Since Munnings was a new sire at that point, the Grays decided the filly was a better racing than commercial prospect. Though diminutive, Chit Chatter's baby had a good head on her shoulders—kind, but like her mother, not afraid to lead in a herd. All that she was missing was a name.
“Of course, everyone's asked me if I'm the namesake,” said Gray. “Like most girls, I like to talk, [but] we just used the mama's name.”
The Grays gave I'm a Chatterbox time to grow before sending her to Ken McPeek to make her first start late in her 2-year-old season—a maiden special weight at Keeneland that she won by a determined head. That, Carolyn said, was when they first had the inkling she could be something special.
From there, I'm a Chatterbox moved on to an allowance race at Churchill Downs, followed by a win in the Silverbulletday for Larry and Cindy Jones at Fair Grounds. Through it all, Gray said the filly has kept the class and composure of an athlete—fierce on the track but demure in the barn.
“She knows she's the princess,” said Gray. “She thinks everybody's [in the barn] to see her.”
I'm a Chatterbox's win in the Rachel Alexandra wasn't the Grays' first brush with graded stakes success: they also bred Icon Ike, the son of Yes It's True and Straight Man mare Robbie's Gal. He picked up three stakes victories in Louisiana and Texas and set a course record at Sam Houston in the Champion Energy Services Stakes. The horse went on to stand stud in Arkansas, which makes Gray proud since he originated from a regional program.
The couple is perhaps best known as breeders of Stardom Bound, winner of the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Award for 2-year-old filly. They sold the Tapit daughter for $50,000 as a yearling; she hammered at $5.7 million at the Fasig-Tipton November sale the next year.
“As far as selling Stardom Bound, we have never been the type of people who have had regrets about that,” said Gray. “My basic life philosophy is that everything happens for a reason. We were, of course, absolutely thrilled with what she did.”
As for I'm a Chatterbox, it's too early to tell whether her future includes a seven-figure sale price. For the moment, she is pointing toward the Fair Grounds Oaks March 28, where she could earn as many as 100 points toward a Kentucky Oaks start.
“We'll see where it takes us,” said Gray. “We're just excited to be on the ride.”
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