07/17/2016 11:59AM

Rough start to Delaware Handicap stirs up much debate

Hoofprints, Inc.
I'm a Chatterbox earned a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure, but was the subject of controversy because multiple horses got bumped at the start of the Delaware Handicap.

STANTON, Del. - Despite winning the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap with I'm a Chatterbox the previous afternoon, Sunday morning was a typical work day for trainer Larry Jones. By 9 a.m. he had already been to the track on nine horses, and he still had three more to go.

But Sunday was not completely normal. Although I'm a Chatterbox had run a strong race to win the Del Cap at 3-5, it was not without controversy. She had bobbled at the start of the 1 1/4-mile race and then ducked inward, causing a chain-reaction bumping incident with the three horses inside of her in the six-horse field.

Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., the rider of runner-up Paid Up Subscriber, lodged a claim of foul against I'm a Chatterbox but the stewards, after reviewing the somewhat startling beginning of the race, ruled that the order of finish would stand. The incident sparked wide-ranging debate.

Fortunately, I'm a Chatterbox (No. 4); Milaya (No. 3), trained by Michael Dilger; Money'soncharlotte (No. 2), trained by Kelly Breen, and Paid Up Subscriber (No. 1), trained by Al Stall Jr.; all seem to have come out of the race none the worse for wear.

Both Stall and Dilger said Sunday they were shocked the inquiry sign was not lit after the race and that if Santana hadn't claimed foul the race would have been made official.

"Ricardo didn't really know what happened at the start," Stall explained. "He thought maybe the 2 or the 3 had come in on him. He didn't realize the winner was responsible. I told him to lodge the objection."

At the start of the race, I'm a Chatterbox stumbled and then ducked inward under jockey Florent Geroux, bumping Milaya into Money'soncharlotte. Paid Up Subscriber, the second betting choice in the field at 9-5, also was bumped hard.

"Her hindquarters were knocked out from under her as a result of the domino effect," Stall said.

Geroux straightened out I'm a Chatterbox and she was briefly in last position. She then went by horses in the long run to the first turn and took up a stalking position off front-running Mei Ling. I'm a Chatterbox took the lead on the far turn, drew clear, and then held Paid Up Subscriber safe to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

After being bumped off stride at the start, Paid Up Subscriber had a clean trip and was second best, finishing 4 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place Penwith. Milaya and Money'soncharlotte were well beaten, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.

Paid Up Subscriber is owned by Klaravich Stable and William Lawrence. In addition to the Del Cap's $750,000 purse, a victory can increase a filly's value immensely. Stall said Sunday morning he had still not spoken to all his owners and was not sure if they would appeal the stewards' decision.

The Delaware stewards relayed a statement regarding their ruling to the media Saturday evening through john Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Racing Commission.

"They said the 4 horse [I'm a Chatterbox] came in, had bumps with the 3 [Milaya] and 2 [Money'soncharlotte], which in turn bumped the No. 1 [Paid Up Subscriber]. After the bump, the No. 4 lost ground as much as anyone else and was four lengths behind the 1 after the bump," Wayne said. "They thought that the bump and the fact that the 4 horse was four lengths behind the 1, it didn't cost the 1 horse a placing. And the 1 horse never lost stride for the rest of the race."

Jones said he thought the stewards made the right call by leaving the order of finish unchanged.

"I know it was a controversial start," Jones said. "Had they taken her down, I would have understood. But I think the stewards made the right decision. I feel I had the best horse. After Geroux straightened her, we were last. We still had to outrun them all."

Stall said after the race he disagreed with the stewards' call. On Sunday he had softened his position dlightly.

"The starting gate is always a tough place to have things happen," Stall said. "The stewards are always more forgiving when things happen there. But it was a six-horse field and the 4 came over into the 1, 2, and the 3. That's half the field. It's simple math."

Money'soncharlotte was 56-1 in the race. Milaya was 67-1.

"Our plan was to be in front for as far as we can go," Breen said of Money'soncharlotte. "I was compromised at the gate and was last early. We were annihilated. I don't know that I got a fair chance."

Dilger and Breen both said they were hoping to finish in the top three and earn a Grade 1 placing.

"I was a longshot in the race but then again, when the gates open it should be irrelevant what the odds are," Dilger said. "I am wondering if I didn't get a fair shake. I watched the race with Al [Stall} and we couldn't believe the inquiry sign was not posted."

Jones believes he knows why I'm a Chatterbox ducked inward so sharply after she stumbled. A dirt route of 1 1/4 miles is rarely run at Delaware and starts out of a small chute at the top of the stretch. At the end of the chute, behind where the gate is set, is an on-gap to the track that is used during training hours.

"That's where we come onto the track with I'm a Chatterbox in the morning," Jones said. "Every time we do, we make a left out of that chute and backtrack before we do anything with her. So when the ground broke out from under her, I think she was just anticipating to go that way, to her left."

I'm a Chatterbox's indiscretion at the start takes a little shine off her victory but she still ran an impressive race. She was timed in 2:02.64 and earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

Jones said he would consider the Grade 1, $750,000 Personal Ensign, a 1 1/8-mile race at Saratoga on Aug. 27, as a possible next start for I'm a Chatterbox.

I'm a Chatterbox finished first in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga last summer but was disqualified and placed second in a controversial decision for coming outward and brushing with Curalina in deep stretch.

"I told the owners last night, that this equals out for Saratoga," Jones said. "That was a close call and we were taken down. This was a close call and we were left up."

I'm a Chatterbox, a 4-year-old daughter of Munnings owned by Fletcher and Carolyn Gray of Missouri, is now 7 for 14 in her career with earnings of more than $1.8 million. Her other major win came in the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx Racing last September.