I’m a Chatterbox at Keeneland on October 11th – Keeneland Photo
With Beholder and Cavorting staking their claims as the leading older females in the country, and with Songbird and Carina Mia impressing in major races on opposite coasts, 2016 is already shaping up to be a great year for fillies and mares. On July 16th, the division got even more intriguing when I’m a Chatterbox scored an impressive victory in the ten-furlong Delaware Handicap (gr. I) at Delaware Park.
From some perspectives, her performance wasn’t all that eye-catching–she beat only five rivals, all of them unproven at the highest level, and her final time of 2:02.64 was modest and translated to a Beyer speed figure of just 98. But from a visual perspective, I’m a Chatterbox looked great and overcame a bit of trouble to win impressively.
I’m a Chatterbox’s troubles began at the start, when she stumbled slightly coming out of the gate and seemed to lose her balance, causing her to veer sharply to the left and crowd the three runners to her inside. There was quite a bit of jostling before jockey Florent Geroux managed to straighten her back out, and the incident left I’m a Chatterbox off the pace as the front-running Mei Ling sprinted to the lead. But Geroux didn’t hesitate and quickly sent I’m a Chatterbox to track the pace in second place, a decision that seemed brilliant as Mei Ling carved out modest fractions of :23.73, :47.72, and 1:12.82. Off those fractions, I’m a Chatterbox was going to be tough to beat, and while Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) winner Paid Up Subscriber unleashed a determined rally in the homestretch, I’m a Chatterbox was never in serious danger of being caught and crossed the wire in front by 2 1/4 lengths.
After the race, an objection was lodged by the rider of Paid Up Subscribe alleging interference at the start, and while the head-on replay showed that Paid Up Subscribe was bumped soundly during the jostling, the stewards chose to let the results stand. Given that Paid Up Subscriber had clear aim at I’m a Chatterbox in the homestretch but wasn’t able to get closer than two lengths, and given that Paid Up Subscriber’s didn’t seem to lose early position as a result of the incident, I think the stewards made a good decision.
Another highlight over the weekend was the victory by Cupid in the Indiana Derby (gr. II). The Bob Baffert-trained son of Tapit had shown great potential when winning the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn earlier this winter (defeating future Belmont Stakes winner Creator in the process), but Cupid had surgery to correct a breathing issue after he tired to finish off the board in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), and his first race since then–a last-place finish in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont–had some questioning whether Cupid could be trusted to return to form.
In the Indiana Derby, Cupid didn’t get off to the best start from post position ten, but when jockey Rafael Bejarano asked him for speed, Cupid rushed up to take a narrow lead after an opening quarter-mile in :23.44 seconds. He continued to duel for the lead through an intense half-mile in :46.75, then kept up the pressure through six furlongs in 1:10.86, which gave him a clear lead. At this point, it was clear that the real Cupid had shown up, and when he turned for home with a decisive advantage, it looked as though he was on his way to an easy victory.
However, the race wasn’t over yet. The Player, coming off of two straight wins at Churchill Downs, was rallying in the center of the track and gaining ground fast. Cupid, refusing to switch to his right lead, began drifting in and out, unable to shake clear of his late-running rival. The Player kept coming, but never got within three-quarters of a length of Cupid, who dug deep when challenged and turned back The Player to prevail in hard-fought fashion.
The final time of 1:43.30 for 8.5 furlongs resulted in a Beyer speed figure of 94, and the performance stamped Cupid as a colt to watch during the second half of the season. Time will tell if he will gain consistency with more experience and maturity, and he might end up being best as a Grade III/Grade II runner rather than an elite Grade I horse, but he’s already won two major stakes races and earned nearly $900,000, an admirable record for any horse.
In any case, Cupid adds further depth to Baffert’s already strong group of three-year-olds, which includes Iowa Derby (gr. III) winner American Freedom (targeting the Haskell Invitational), recent Santa Anita allowance winner Arrogate (possible for the Jim Dandy Stakes), and the sensational sprinter Drefong (heading for the Bing Crosby Stakes.)
I’d also like to briefly mention Midnight Storm, who was flat-out game in winning the nine-furlong Eddie Read Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar. The distance might be a little beyond his best, but after being closely pursued through modest fractions, Midnight Storm found enough left in the tank to grit out a half-length victory over Ashleyluvssugar, with Flamboyant–making his first start since a solid fifth-place finish in the Dubai Turf (UAE-I) in March–another neck back in third. Midnight Storm has had issues with consistency in the past, but has now won two major races in a row and seems to be back on track. At his best, he’s definitely shown flashes of brilliance.
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