Key Races & Bets for Saturday May 20th, 2023

Dinner Party Stakes – Race 8 at Pimlico – Post Time 2:49 PM Eastern

Morning line favorite Atone appears vulnerable to me because even though he won his final start of 2022 at this nine furlong turf trip, then won the Pegasus World Cup Turf in January at the distance, he failed miserably at 4 to 5 in his recent start, in the Muniz Memorial, with no excuse whatsoever in finishing ninth. Saez rode him last out and chooses to ride Speaking Scout for Motion (Atone is trained by Maker) and Irad Ortiz, Jr. who rode Atone in the Pegasus, chooses Emmanuel for Pletcher off a similar poor seventh place finish. Emmanuel is also suspect as the co-second morning line choice at 7 to 2.

That really leaves Hurricane Dream, as a low odds overlay (morning line 7 to 2) standout. The gelding made his U.S. debut in the Pegasus and ran 10th of 12 but was an entirely different horse two and one-half months later in a stakes level classified allowance race on the grass at Keeneland, with a visually impressive rally from seventh to fifth to first before pulling away by four lengths at the end. The 119 Equibase Figure towers over the 109 figure Atone earned in the Pegasus and Hurricane Dream should run even better second off the layoff. He ran in six group 2 or group 3 races in Europe last year, which are SUPERIOR to U.S. grade 3 races, and although not winning any of them he finished second in three of those, all efforts which win here if repeated among this group.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Hurricane Dream can be bet to win at 8 to 5 or more and is a strong low odds overlay.

Race 8: Hurricane Dream
Race 9: Beguine, Gunning

Pick 3:
Race 8: Hurricane Dream
Race 9: Beguine, Gunning
Race 10: Smokin’ Jay, Coppola, Uncle Ernie, Beer Can Man

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Skipat Stakes – Race 9 at Pimlico – Post Time 3:31 PM Eastern

Analysis and Contenders:
This race is TOP HEAVY in “early speed” types, starting with Oxana on the rail, adding I’m the Boss of Me, Princess Kokachin, Edie Meeny Miny Mo, Olivia Darling and Golden Effect. It’s only going to take two or three of these to run the opening quarter battling for the lead in under 22 seconds, and since none of them have shown the ability to succeed from third or fourth (only first or second) early it’s likely they will all be susceptible to being passed late.

Gunning and Beguine are the top two to do the passing, and I’ll start with Gunning, who opens at 6 to 1. The filly has only run one bad race in seven starts, the one which led to the six month layoff from last September to this March. She won her first two starts of the year, both sprints, before stretching out to a mile and rallying for second. Cutting back to one turn she’s likely to have a fierce kick and has a big shot to add to her record of being first or second in five of seven races to date.

Beguine hasn’t been seen since December but has every right to fire with good works in the last month and Castellano getting on. She moved to her current trainer’s barn last November and missed by a half-length then finished second after perhaps rallying prematurely from third in a stakes just like this one. That effort repeated here is actually better than Gunning’s best effort so Beguine is the other horse with the bulk of the probability to win.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Gunning and Beguine can be bet to win at odds of 5 to 2 or more.

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Exacta: Box Gunning and Beguine

Race 9: Beguine, Gunning
Race 10: Smokin’ Jay, Coppola, Uncle Ernie, Beer Can Man

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Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes – Race 10 at Pimlico – Post Time 4:12 PM Eastern

Nothing Better gets the rail and is an absolute NEED-THE-LEAD type, who has to run hard from the start because of the big field to insure no other horse comes over and takes his path. That’s Right has had the lead at the first point of call in his last SEVEN races and will insure the early pace is contested, and hot, particularly as Fore Harp has led at the first call in his last FOUR races and Breakthrough has led at the start in his last three. NONE of these has shown the ability to sit third so all are likely to cause a sizzling hot pace, perhaps around 21 seconds for the first quarter, which insures the top three horses below (and maybe Uncle Ernie) will have a say in the outcome.

Smokin’ Jay ran the exact type of race which will win this one, one before last on March 4, at this five furlong trip, when he rallied from seventh after about three furlongs and won going away. Gaffalione was up then, as now and that effort looks representative of what we will see today.

Coppola gets a great post to avoid traffic as he lets the speed duel materialize. His best race ever came last out on 5/2 in a similar turf sprint with John V aboard, who rides again. He rallied from fourth to be a head behind the leader in the early stretch then blasted off by four lengths and that effort looks repeatable here.

Beer Can Man can go over a half-million in earnings with a win here and he’s six for 12 in his career on turf, all sprints. He hasn’t run this five furlong distance since the fall of 2021 when he won by a head, finishing second in the similar Grade 3 Turf Monster Stakes right before that. Prat rode him in both starts and rides back and the horse should improve nicely back to that kind of form after being beaten two lengths last month as he was off for 14 months prior to that.

Uncle Ernie is a MUST use for exactas as he’s been first or second in nine of 13, BUT only once on turf. He’s was the 2 to 1 favorite for that race, the 2022 Turf Monster, and although that race was a poor one he really woke up in his last start four weeks ago when Lopez rode him for the first time and he put in a strong late run to miss by a nose. Although he has less of a chance to win than the other three, the fact he opens at 20 to 1 means he should not be ignored.

Handicapper Picks

Win: The top three win contenders – Smokin’ Jay, Coppola and Beer Can Man, have fair odds of 4 to 1 and I would absolutely bet two of the three to win, the ones with the highest odds of the trio near post time.

This is definitely a GREAT race to use the free DUTCHING tool at Amwager to give us an edge when betting two (or more) horses at different odds.

Box Smokin’ Jay, Coppola, Beer Can Man
Box Smokin’ Jay, Coppola, Beer Can Man, Uncle Ernie

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Preakness Stakes – Race 13 at Pimlico – Post Time 7:01 PM Eastern


This year’s Preakness is not as good of a betting race as compared to many others on the Pimlico card, especially the three races above. My analysis is below but insofar as betting there’s not much value except in using First Mission and Mage on pick 3, pick 4 and double tickets involving the race.

First Mission and Mage appear to hold the bulk of the probability to win this year’s Preakness Stakes because if we could run this race with this field 100 times, these two might win about 66 times in 100. Of the pair, I will give First Mission the slightest of edges based on the fact that he has shown the ability to relax in third and second in the middle stages of his similar two-turn races whereas Mage has been nearly last in the early stages in his last two races. First Mission debuted at six furlongs in February, three weeks after Mage made his winning debut at seven furlongs. In that debut First Mission showed some talent when rallying from fifth to second, missing by less than a length to Bishops Bay, who just last weekend lost by a head in the Peter Pan Stakes. Stretched out to two-turns for his second career start in March, First Mission won easily in a 10 horse field, handily drawing off by nearly seven lengths with gas left in the tank. Four weeks later the colt proved a solid choice as the favorite when improving to a career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure (from 95 one month earlier), winning the Lexington Stakes by a half-length. Since then trainer Brad Cox has explicitly stated the Preakness was the colt’s next target. With two recent very strong five furlong workouts and on a pattern for a new career-best effort, First Mission has also shown the ability to get a position during the early stages of a race. This should enable him to be in front of the field in the stretch before Mage gets into high gear. As such, First Mission appears capable of posting the mild upset to win this year’s Preakness Stakes.

Two weeks ago, Mage won the 149th running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with a sharp move from sixth with a quarter mile to run, to second with an eighth of a mile left to run, before pulling away from Two Phil’s and Angel of Empire in the final strides. Five weeks earlier the colt had made a similar move in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, going from seventh with a quarter mile to run, to lead with an eight of a mile to go, before being passed by Forte and settling for second. His Derby effort was the moment the light bulb completely went on as this time Mage showed the same quick burst of speed and this time he was not passed in the latter stages of the race. Following his debut win at seven furlongs, Mage could only manage fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in March, but still ran faster, improving from an 88 figure to 95. Incidentally that 95 figure was the same as First Mission earned in his second career start. In the Florida Derby, although Mage was beaten by the much more seasoned Forte, who had run five times until then as compared to two, Mage improved once more to a 102 figure. The 104 figure he earned winning the Kentucky Derby continued the pattern of improvement and there is every sign this colt that is making only the fifth start of his career can run even better.

Honorable mention goes to National Treasure and Red Route One. National Treasure, who has earned 101 figures in his last two races, won his debut last summer at six furlongs and has finished no worse than fourth in four races since, all stakes. Adding blinkers for the Preakness and drawing the rail, there is little doubt the plan will be to put the colt on the front and try to play “come catch me” with the field. However, Coffeewithchris may have something to say about that plan as he has been no further back than second after a quarter mile and half mile in each of his last six races. That may cause National Treasure to go a bit too fast to have enough energy in the late stages to hold off First Mission and Mage. On the other hand, if Coffeewithchris takes back and allows National Treasure an easy early lead, National Treasure may prove difficult to catch in the final stages.

Red Route One, even perhaps more than Mage, starts far back in the early stages. He rallied from 11th and last to finish second in the Rebel Stakes in late February (earning a 102 figure) and two races later he rallied from eighth of nine (11 lengths back) to win the Bath House Row Stakes with the same 102 figure. In this field of eight it appears unlikely the colt can run on from last but on the other hand, Joel Rosario who was in the saddle for the first time in the Bath House Row, rides back and is certainly capable of getting the colt to improve the slightest bit necessary to be there at the finish in the Preakness.

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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