Walkathon and Never Explain Best in Turf Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs

February 4, 2024

Walkathon returns to the winner’s circle (Ben Baugh)

Daughter of Twirling Candy and Son of Street Sense Win Graded Stakes Races Saturday

By Ben Baugh

OLDSMAR, Fla.— Time off can-do wonders, making a return to the winner’s circle that much sweeter.

Whitham Thoroughbreds homebred Walkathon had spent more than a year away from the races, but that seemed to be just what she needed, as her 1 ½-length victory in Saturday’s $175,000 Endeavour Stakes (Gr. 3) at Tampa Bay Downs, was her first victory since the spring of 2022. The diminutive 5-year-old mare is conditioned by Ian Wilkes and was ridden to victory by Antonio Gallardo. It was a poignant moment for the mare whose name is a portmanteau. 

“We got hurt after the Regret and we were off for a long time, 400 days,” said Wilkes. “And when you have a filly, a three-year-old coming four against seasoned fillies, just taking a few races to get her back, I was really happy. I was telling Mrs. Whitham, the last race, I was so close to having her where I want her. That was great.”

Walkathon was coming off a fourth-place effort in her last start, the Suwannee River Stakes (Gr. 3) at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 30, 2023. The bay mare was sent off as the fifth choice in the wagering in the field of seven horses, a race that featured the winner of the Suwannee, Full Count Felicia. Walkathon returned to the races this past summer. 

” The last race (the Suwannee River Stakes), I thought was very good, it was better than it looked on paper,” said Wilkes. “She ran fourth. She had a very wide trip. It was a very good race. She trained phenomenal (at Palm Meadows) coming into this, to come here was a good steppingstone. We weren’t ready for the Pegasus, we had this race, we’ll go back to Gulfstream, and there’s a race in a month’s time there.”

However, Walkathon seemed to have no trouble with the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance, over a track listed as firm. 

Prior to the Suwannee, Walkathon had raced in the Cardinal Stakes (Gr. 3), over a surface that was more yielding. 

“It took a little while to just get her back to where I wanted her, each race was building, the worst race she ran was in the Cardinal,” said Wilkes. “The turf course was really soft that day, and she didn’t like that really soft ground.”

It’s a familiar family for Wilkes, he conditioned Walkathon’s dam, Walkabout, a Whitham homebred, who won the Matron Stakes (Gr. 3) at Churchill Downs and placed in the Groupie Doll Stakes (Gr. 3) and the Falls City Handicap (Gr. 2). 

To the winner’s circle for Never Explain (Ben Baugh)

It wasn’t as clear-cut for Never Explain in the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (Gr. 3) in memory of John Reading. 

Never Explain couldn’t be more clear, has he elucidated coming around the turn, demonstrating an intrepid spirit and determination to collar Running Bee, Winfrommwithin and Churchtown, to win by a half-length over Running Bee, with the late charging Seige of Boston, finishing a nose behind the place finisher. Courtland Farm (Donald Adam) campaigns the 6-year-old son of Street Sense, Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey conditions the horse and jockey Vincent Cheminaud piloted Never Explain to victory. 

“Vince rode a good race,” said Reeve McGaughey, Shug’s son and assistant trainer. “He’s been training really well. He’s been breezing with Integration (multiple graded stakes winner) coming up to it. We were confident that he was going to run well. At this point of the year, he always shows up, it’s just a matter of getting a good trip and whether he’s good enough.”

Never Explain is no stranger to Tampa Bay Downs, having won back-to-back allowance races in the winter of 2023. 

His last stakes score came in the Dinner Party Stakes presented by Bullet Bourbon, also a half-length victory over Hurricane Dream, this past spring at Pimlico. A consistent campaigner, Never Explain placed second in the Monmouth Stakes (Gr. 3) and third in the Bowling Green Stakes this past summer. 

“He’s shown up every time,” said McGaughey. “Little things happen where he runs into one that’s a hair better than him. He’s been consistent. He had the one disappointing race at Kentucky Downs (FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (Gr. 2). It probably wasn’t his fault. Other than that, he hasn’t done anything wrong the past couple of years now. He continues to get better and better.”

Never Explain’s namesake, was a seven-time winner, a son of Cornish Prince, who placed second in the Lexington Stakes (Gr. 2) at Aqueduct and third in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park in 1974.

Contributing Authors

Ben Baugh

Ben Baugh has been writing about Thoroughbred racing for more than 25 years. A past winner of the Raleigh Burroughs Award, his work has appeared...

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