At Preakness, focusing on actual race easier said than done

Unfortunately, attention is drawn to debauchery, downtrodden Pimlico

May 15, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Preakness Week kicks off Monday, which means it's time to get past the low-rent Kegasus ad campaign and the general shabbiness of Pimlico Race Course and concentrate on the great race itself.

Many of us can't wait for Saturday to see Animal Kingdom, the chestnut colt trained by adopted Marylander Graham Motion that won the Kentucky Derby as a 21-1 long shot.

As most race fans know by now, Motion grew up in England but moved to the Free State with his family when he was 16.

So he's one of ours, by God. Well, as much as a 46-year-old guy who sounds like King George VI in interviews can be considered one of ours.

What I like about the guy is how low-key and unassuming he is, even after that huge win in the Derby.

Unlike rock-star trainers like Bob Baffert and Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas, Motion strikes you as the sort of guy you'd find at Home Depot on a Saturday morning, looking for bathtub grout.

Which is why he seems amused — and a tad overwhelmed — with all the attention he and his horse are attracting.

"It's an odd feeling to have won the Derby and then you've got to start thinking about winning the Preakness," he told reporters. "It's a little daunting."

In a bid to keep the atmosphere around him as relaxed as possible, Motion has Animal Kingdom sequestered at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton. And he said he won't bring the colt to Pimlico until Friday — practically the last minute — to avoid all the "craziness."

So, naturally, a lot of the craziness has come to Elkton in the form of reporters and boom mikes and TV satellite trucks.

I see where Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid even stopped by to watch the colt exercise the other day.

This is what happens when you're a Type A NFL coach — OK, that's redundant; name me one NFL coach who isn't high-strung and 10 seconds from a heart attack — and your sport is shut down because of an owners' lockout.

I wonder whether Reid showed up with a headset and held a laminated play sheet in front of his lips during Animal Kingdom's workout. You know, just to stay in practice. These guys seem paranoid about lip readers no matter where they go.

OK, a few more words about this mortifying Kegasus ad campaign, which features a so-called centaur with biker hair, a beer gut and a nipple ring urging infield-goers to "Be Legendary!" in their partying.

If you had to sum up the effectiveness of the campaign thus far, the first thing that comes to mind is erratic Charlie Sheen's catchphrase: "Winning!"

I say that because even though civic officials and the media have been pretty unanimous in ripping Kegasus, ticket sales for the Preakness are up dramatically from last year.

Race officials say all the controversy surrounding Kegasus has helped generate interest in the race, which I know you'll find shocking.

A crowd of about 110,000 is expected at Pimlico. So look for the return of lots of drunks to the infield, especially since they're giving away free beer.

OK, technically, it's not free. But 20 bucks for unlimited refills of Budweiser is about as close to free as you can get.

And with race officials promising to speed up the long beer lines that slowed the partying at last year's Preakness, we might even see the same breathtaking levels of debauchery that existed pre-2009, when you could show up with your own 30-pack under each arm and get hammered by 10 in the morning.

Terrific.

On the other hand, it keeps the Baltimore police force busy. And you know there's nothing cops would rather do than tackle and handcuff some fat, sweaty kid who just got into a fight and puked all over himself.

As for the continued decay of Pimlico Race Course, this is a sad story that we harp on every year to no avail.

There are 200-year-old mausoleums that look livelier and more welcoming than Pimlico.

Sure, the place gets spruced up for the Preakness. But you talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

What they do to Pimlico is like putting lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss, blush and a bronzer on the pig, then stepping back and thinking: "Wow, this thing is still pretty ugly."

Preakness officials have been begging for the place to be upgraded with more seats and amenities for years.

But there's no money to fix it up, and maybe it's not used enough to justify pouring money into it, anyway.

And I guess as long as you can attract 110,000 bodies to the place on the third Saturday in May, Pimlico will stay pretty much the same.

Unfortunately.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on 1370 AM Sports.

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