05/17/2012 9:23AM

Pimlico notes: Promotions help bring Preakness Day crowd back

Barbara D. Livingston
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill does an interview with Kegasus on Wednesday at Pimlico.

BALTIMORE – The Preakness is experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity after attendance crashed from an all-time high of 121,263 for the 2007 running to just 77,850 in 2009, when Pimlico announced they were abandoning the longstanding tradition of bring-your-own-booze.

The track has tried a couple of different marketing gimmicks and a drink special ($20 bottomless beer mugs) to lure back the younger crowd who make up a large fraction of that difference. A “Get Your Preak On” campaign was started in 2010, and then the odd spectacle of Kegasus began last year. Kegasus is a presumably hip, long-haired, bare-chested, mid-30ish party dude whose lower body is that of a (fake) horse’s. He has visited the Pimlico backstretch this week while making media appearances throughout this area as the “spokesthing” for the Preakness, trying to increase awareness of the event while employing a bizarre vernacular and intentionally pompous delivery.

“Be legendary,” is one of his standard commands, and he often talks in off-the-wall terms about ancient mythology or unicorns or some other random subject. In a tongue-in-cheek online interview, he actually addressed the Preakness race, saying: “I’m definitely star-struck by I’ll Have Another. Everyone loves a Cinderella story. Do they even make glass horseshoes?”

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Hard to tell whether Kegasus had anything to do with it, but attendance last year was back to 107,398, and with ideal weather forecast for Saturday, that number could easily be surpassed. One infield attraction this year is a concert featuring Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa. General admission is $60.

Baffert seeks sixth Preakness title

If Bodemeister comes through Saturday as the favorite, it will give Bob Baffert a remarkable sixth Preakness win and move him to within one victory of the all-time leader, which is Robert Wyndham Walden. Baffert currently is tied for second with D. Wayne Lukas and Thomas J. Healey with five Preakness wins each.

Walden operated out of Middleburg, Md., in the final quarter-century of the 1800s and won the Preakness five straight times from 1878 to 1882. Pimlico records do not show how many starts he had.

For Baffert, Bodemeister represents just his 13th Preakness starter. Lukas leads all trainers in the modern era with 37 starts, which includes Optimizer on Saturday. His last victory came in 1999 with Charismatic.

Crown win elusive for Nakatani

Corey Nakatani has enjoyed a highly successful career that has made him a borderline candidate for the Racing Hall of Fame, having won more than 3,500 races, seven Breeders’ Cup events, and a multitude of Grade 1 stakes. What is noticeably absent from the Nakatani r é sum é , however, is a victory in a Triple Crown event, and that drought figures to continue Saturday when he climbs aboard longshot Optimizer in the 137th running of the Preakness.

Nakatani, 41, finished 15th on Sabercat two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby, bringing his Derby record to 0 for 16. A presumed defeat Saturday on Optimizer would bring his Preakness mark to 0 for 4, while he is 0 for 3 in the Belmont Stakes.

◗ Not that the thousands of out-of-towners in for the Preakness would know any different, but Saturday marks the final program of the 29-day Pimlico spring meet. Racing for most horsemen on this circuit then moves to Colonial Downs in Virginia for a meet that runs June 2 to July 28, but after that, there is no scheduled meet in this region until Timonium runs its fair meet from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3.

There are, however, ongoing discussions between the Maryland Jockey Club and local horsemen about having an abbreviated meet at Laurel Park to fill that four-week gap. That issue is expected to be addressed sometime next week.