Preakness Saturday at Pimlico offers a loaded undercard of stakes races, including the tradition-rich Dinner Party on turf. A long-time immediate race preceding the Preakness, it's offered earlier this year as Race 8 of 14 with a post time of 2:49 pm ET. It's drawn its best field in years. For more Preakness Day coverage, visit the 1/ST Preakness Wager Guide.
Players betting on the Xpressbet and 1/ST BET platforms can take advantage of an up to $10 money-back special on win bets in any race Friday or Saturday at Pimlico. If your win bet finishes second or third, get back up to $10 of the bet.
Grade 1 winners ATONE and SPEAKING SCOUT have won at the highest level. EMMANUEL is a Grade 2 winner and Grade 1-placed. HURRICANE DREAM and RISING EMPIRE are Grade 2-placed. This is a tremendous field for the purse and grade.
Rail-drawn ATONE set the pace in this race last year and likely will be sent to the front with RISING EMPIRE and NEVER EXPLAIN closest-up. This looks like a fair pace, but certainly not overheated, and can be taken up front.
Here are my horse-by-horse notes.
1-ATONE: Pegasus World Cup Turf winner was third in this race last year after leading most of the way. The rail draw should encourage Tyler Gaffalione to use more of this one's natural speed than has been on display in recent races. Uncomfortable trip last time when between horses and not allowed to settle; I'll draw a line through that one.
2-SPEAKING SCOUT: Grade 1 Hollywood Derby winner was third in the Pegasus World Cup Turf behind Atone before running into a smasher at Keeneland named Chez Pierre, likely the best turf miler in America right now. First of 3 Graham Motion trainees in this race and that barn always has to be respected in this region's grass races. Saves ground for late rally.
3-EASTER: Another Motion trainee, this one gives Preakness favorite Mage's jockey Javier Castellano a chance at a huge afternoon. Fourth in the Grade 1 Man o' War last year, he's lightly raced with only 1 start since last June. That turf mile allowance score at Aqueduct sets him up nicely for this.
4-HURRICANE DREAM: Visually fantastic Keeneland allowance winner for Motion pairs perfectly with late-running rider Joel Rosario. This might be the best finisher in the field and he was vastly improved from his Pegasus World Cup Turf try behind Atoned and Speaking Scout.
5-RISING EMPIRE: Red-hot trainer Brendan Walsh has to be considered with everything he sends out of late and this Empire Maker runner comes out of a respected edition of the Elkhorn at Keeneland. That race's runner-up, Red Knight, returned last week to win the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont. This horse has pace versatility, but given the lack of other devout speed in the race, I'm expecting John Velazquez to have him in nearby pursuit of the lead.
6-NEVER EXPLAIN: Trainer Shug McGaughey's afternoon includes Perform in the Preakness Stakes, and he'll look for a top performance here with the only runner to notch a local turf win at Pimlico previously. It's career start No. 15 for the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Street Sense, but his first in a stakes race. He is expected to be near the front early.
7-EMMANUEL: Outrun in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland last out in a surprisingly dull performance, but that race was won by rising superstar Chez Pierre, and the third-place finisher has since returned to win the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill on Derby Day. The former speedster has been rating off the pace in recent outings, but should be mid-pack in this field with every chance if he returns to his best form.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
ATONE has class, speed and local experience with some success. That's enough to get this nod in a field that does not have any toss-outs. But he's not a standout as 9-5 in the morning line may suggest.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
RISING EMPIRE likely won't get bet hard here and you can't fault what the Walsh barn has been doing of late. In a very tough race, he's the best bet at the best price if that 8-1 or more.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$70 win RISING EMPIRE. $5 exacta back-wheel ALL with RISING EMPIRE ($30).