Janis Whitham homebred Walkabout closed from well off the early pace to win Saturday’s G3 Matron Stakes at Churchill Downs by a neck over Improv. The 4-year-old daughter of Stroll, ridden by Brian Hernandez, Jr. for trainer Ian Wilkes, covered 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track in 1:44.06 to score her first graded stakes victory.
Improv came out of the gate running from the outside, but was beaten to the first turn by Belle Hill on the inside. Belle Hill led by a neck through an opening quarter in 23.52 seconds, but Improv took over the lead in the backstretch to mark the half-mile in 47.03. Divine Elegance and Crooked Stick followed those two, and eventual winner Walkabout was at least 15 lengths off the pace at the rear of the field, third from last.
Through the far turn, Improv began to draw away from the field as Crooked Stick moved into contention on her outside. Crooked Stick was on even terms with Improv at the head of the lane, but Improv was able to put away that rival by the eighth pole. Hernandez took Walkabout five-wide on the turn and still had five lengths to make up on the leader, but the filly seemed to know exactly where the wire was and how to get her neck down in front of a tiring but still-game Improv. Divine Elegance finished just in front of Crooked Stick for third.
Bred in Kentucky by her owner, Walkabout is out of the Broad Brush mare Arlucea, herself a daughter of the fantastic Argentine mare and Hall of Famer Bayakoa. Walkabout took four starts to break her maiden, then recorded a couple of allowance wins between stakes tries over her 3-year-old season. This first graded win improves the filly’s record to 4-2-2 from 11 starts with earnings of over $ 220,000.
BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR., jockey of WALKABOUT (winner): “Around the first turn, we were way back there. That’s just the sort of horse she is, though. We came rolling at the end. We figured out the type of running style she has over the last couple of starts. All I have to do is stay out of her way.”
IAN WILKES, trainer of WALKABOUT (winner): “It took us this last year to figure her out. She originally ran closer to the pace but she made us understand to be patient. She was always traveling well and when I saw the horses bunch together on the front end I wasn’t worried at all. Brian (Hernandez Jr.) rode her great going around all of the speed horses and not getting her stopped.”
“RUSTY” ARNOLD II, trainer of IMPROV (second) and WEEP NO MORE (fifth): “I think a lot of people thought I was running her (Improv) as a rabbit but I wasn’t. She had really done well since her last race. The other filly (Weep No More) ran all right. She hasn’t been out in eight months and she needed to get feet back under her. She did late, but then got tired. We just wanted to get her back going. It’s tough to find a race for a horse like that. Now we’ve got (Improv) back to herself and she’ll be in the Fleur De Lis, hopefully.”
JAMES GRAHAM, jockey on IMPROV (second): “She ran a huge race. If they’d left me alone and let me send her a little bit, she might have been good enough to hang on today. But today wasn’t her day.”
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