Exculpatory won at first asking at Laurel Park. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

Grace Merryman’s sophomore colt Exculpatory, a dramatic debut winner last month following a circuitous route to the races, makes his return against seven rivals in Friday’s featured eighth race at Pimlico Race Course.

Post time for the first of nine races Friday is 12:40 p.m. Race 8 has a scheduled post of 4:34 p.m.

Bred in Maryland by Merryman and her husband, Louis, of Anchor & Hope Farm and Finn’s Nickel LLC, Exculpatory drew Post 6 in the entry-level allowance for 3-year-olds sprinting 5 ½ furlongs on the main track.

Sheldon Russell, aboard for his March 5 unveiling at Laurel Park, gets the return call. They are listed at 8-1 on the morning line.

By 2003 champion older male and Horse of the Year Mineshaft, Exculpatory was sidetracked several times prior to his first start, a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight where he broke last and fought kickback before settling and weaving through traffic down the stretch for a popular half-length triumph.

“Nice colt. He’s a lot better than his first race showed,” trainer Mark Reid said after winning Thursday’s fifth race with Milam Racing Stables’ Tappahannock. “He ran green as grass. He actually [only] ran the last 60 or 70 yards, which is pretty impressive.”

Exculpatory, based with Reid at Pimlico, breezed four times over his home track following the race including four furlongs in a bullet 47 seconds March 17 and another sharp half in 47.40 April 17. He went an easy half in 49.40 April 24 at Delaware Park.

“I thought actually his first race would be a lot easier than that and a lot faster than that, but since then he’s just continued on the same way,” Reid said. “Black letters any time you want them. I don’t have anything in the barn that can warm him up.”

Favored at 8-5 in the program is Colts Neck Stables’ homebred Kantharos colt Dalton, trained by Jorge Duarte Jr. and racing for the first time since running second by 1 ¼ lengths to No Cents in the six-furlong James F. Lewis III Nov. 14 at Laurel. It was the last of three consecutive runner-up finishes, also beaten a nose in the six-furlong Smoke Glacken in September at Monmouth Park.

Sue Loves Barbados from trainer Dale Capuano is second choice at 7-2, exiting a runner-up finish to Hemp going seven furlongs April 10 at Laurel. Third in that race was It’s Sizzling Time, who lost after back-to-back 5 ½-furlong victories in front-running fashion.

“Tomorrow will be a little better test. There’s a colt of Duarte’s that placed in a couple stakes. Dale’s got one that’s got a decent number. There’s a horse in there that’s always in front, and they’re always dangerous going 5 ½,” Reid said. “If this colt runs his race, I honestly believe they’re running for second.”