05/20/2011 2:27PM

Kegasus draws attention to Preakness infield once again

Maryland Jockey Club
This year's Preakness mascot is described as a "party manimal."

One of the main events was affectionately called the “Running of the Urinals,” where inebriated patrons dashed across the top of Porta Potties while other drunken fans pelted them with beer cans. Through 2008, this behavior and other raunchy acts were typical for the infield at Pimlico on the day of the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Then the party stopped. The Maryland Jockey Club banned fans from bringing their own alcohol to the event. Unfortunately for the race organizers, not only did this curb the craziness but also the attendance - nearly 35,000 fewer tickets were sold for the 2009 Preakness. Attendance rose in 2010 thanks to the new $20 beer mug (with unlimited refills) and the “Get Your Preak On” slogan, though the crowd of 95,760 still fell short of 2008 (112,222).

Pimlico’s solution? A centaur named Kegasus – described on his website as “half-man, half-thoroughbred, all party manimal” - who would serve as race mascot and be charged with the duty of bringing back the party vibe to the Preakness infield.

“We found it to be a lighthearted and humorous way to use a centaur,” said Jim Learned, president of the advertising agency Elevation that is credited with the idea. “Half-horse, celebrating the fact that it is a horse race, but then half-man, who would lord over the InfieldFest. He promotes everything from the concerts, to the food, to the beach volleyball tournament, to cornhole, and all of the things that encompass the infield.”

The campaign has succeeded in generating publicity for the Preakness, though some see it as the MJC reneging on the event’s commitment to safety.

Local lawmakers have been outspoken in criticizing the Kegasus campaign, stating that it promotes irresponsibility and detracts from the grandeur of the Triple Crown race. One of the first naysayers was Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who just a few days after the campaign’s unveiling wrote a blog post denouncing Kegasus.

“The star of the show isn’t the beautiful horses, or the determined jockeys who ride them to glory,” she wrote. “Instead, we’re given Kegasus, a centaur who loves to party. Advertisers have a social responsibility to tell the truth about what they are selling. The truth in this case is that nowhere on the InfieldFest website is there any message about the importance of drinking responsibly.”

When contacted by the Daily Racing Form, Barbot’s office said the commissioner would not comment any further on the matter but stands by her blog post.

While the Kegasus website touts the bottomless $20 beer mugs for sale at the event with giant writing on the side that reads, “More Stations, More Taps, Bigger Mugs,” race organizers insist that the new mascot is in no way a promotion of binge drinking.

The "Running of the Urinals" at the 2007 Preakness.

Kegasus himself told Daily Racing Form that he will have to limit himself come Saturday.

“During InfieldFest, I am the lord of the infield and protector of the Preakness infield, and therefore I will not be partaking,” Kegasus said. “I will be sharp and alert at all times and I will raise a glass to the winner after the race.”

Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas insists that the Kegasus campaign is not meant to represent the entire Preakness experience – just those who choose to go to the infield.

“It’s important to understand that on Preakness Day within the facility there are seven or eight properties,” Chuckas said. “Those seven or eight properties within the footprint attract varied and different demographics. We’ve always maintained that the Preakness is the people’s race and is the people’s party, and Kegasus is specifically targeted to the 21- to 35-year-old demographic.”

Chuckas told The Associated Press that ticket sales are up between 17 and 18 percent for Saturday’s race compared to last year.

So, come Saturday, what will the Kegasus be doing if he’s abstaining from tapping the kegs himself?

Besides watching the race – which he predicts Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom will win – he will be there at 8 a.m. greeting entrants and promoting the six musical acts, which include Bruno Mars and Train. In addition, he will be presiding over the cornhole game, volleyball matches and other activities planned on the infield that promise to bring the party atmosphere back to the Preakness.

And even though the bands have granted the centaur the right to back each of them up for a song with his pan flute, there is one activity the “manimal” sounded particularly excited about.

“I will be judging, in a non-official capacity, the bikini contest,” he said.