7:39 PM EDT, May 12, 2013
You take your good news where you get it and here's mine: the Preakness sent Kegasus packing.
You remember Kegasus. Sleaze-ball centaur with the biker haircut and beer gut? Budweiser-swilling centerpiece of the Infield Fest ad campaign the past two years?
Gone. Got the proverbial pink-slip. You won't see him Saturday for the 138th Preakness Stakes.
"He went back to the islands and I haven't seen him since," Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas joked the other day.
Good thing. Because the truth is, the Preakness is doing so well now that its motto should be: We don't need no stinkin' beer-swilling centaur.
For one thing, the crowds are back. No need to highlight the infield debauchery anymore and make it the marketing hook for an event that showcases this town like no other.
Last year's Preakness drew 121,000-plus to Pimlico Race Course, the fourth straight year of attendance increases. And ticket sales are up nearly 10 percent for this year's race, some of that driven by the chance to see Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner co-owned by a Baltimore County guy, Stuart Janney III.
Not only that, but all 26 corporate tents shoe-horned into Preakness Village are sold out. When the business guys are elbowing each other to get to your event and hang out, you're doing something right.
Oh, the Preakness bashers will still carp about the antiquated facility at Pimlico, the run-down neighborhood around the track, the drunken revelers in the infield and blah, blah, blah.
But the truth is, this is still a great signature event. For one glorious day in May, the eyes of the horse-racing world turn to Baltimore. And an entire region comes together like no other time this side of a Ravens Super Bowl parade.
"One of the things that makes it unique," Chuckas said, "is it's an all-inclusive type of event. ... This is the people's party, the people's race."
He's right. And measured against so many other sporting events, a Preakness ticket is one of the best values around.
You can party in the infield and catch acts like Pitbull and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, or sit in the grandstands and wear a pretty hat and sip a Black-Eyed Susan and avoid the riff-raff.
Or if you have absolutely no life, you can spend your time trying to catch a glimpse of the big shots and celebs in the corporate tents.
Even the new restrictions on bringing in coolers, backpacks, duffle bags and thermoses in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings last month aren't dampening the mood, according to Chuckas.
"It's the world we live in," he said. "People want to come here and have a good time and feel safe and secure."
He said 90 percent of the feedback he's received on the new restrictions has been positive.
In fact, the biggest whiners have been the camera nuts, who want to be able to bring in huge lenses that could take photos of the race from, I don't know, Montana.
But over-sized lenses are on the do-not-bring list this year for security reasons. So now it's the amateur photographers who are bummed instead of the drunks, who somehow feel it's their constitutional right to be able to hand-truck 20 cases of beer into the infield at one time.
Here's another thing that makes the Preakness so special: the horsemen love coming to Pimlico for the race. I mean, they absolutely love it.
Talk to D. Wayne Lukas or Bob Baffert or Doug O'Neill or any of the other trainers and owners — and not just the big-name guys. They'll tell you no one makes them feel more welcome and caters to their every need better than the Pimlico people.
O'Neill, he was like a walking billboard for Preakness hospitality last year.
He came to Pimlico early with Derby winner I'll Have Another and couldn't stop gushing about the red carpet treatment given him and his team.
What made things even better for Team O'Neill, of course, was that I'll Have Another went out and won the Preakness, surging past Bodemeister to win by a neck. (Then came that shocking incident two weeks later right before the Belmont Stakes, when O'Neill's horse was scratched with a sore tendon in its left foreleg, sadly ending its Triple Crown bid.)
But no one will be dwelling on that this week in the run-up to the Preakness.
If the weather cooperates and the feature race is exciting, 120,000 people will leave homely Old Hilltop on Saturday thinking they had a fine time.
That's all anyone could ask for.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."
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