Not even Kegasus horsing around could spoil Preakness Day

May 21, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Let's start with the good news: Even the guy in the cheesy horse costume couldn't spoil things Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

Oh, did Baltimore need a day like this. Look at all we'd been through lately.

The weather was straight from the Scottish moors: dreary and rainy day after day. The Orioles were doing another horrible cliff-dive onto the rocks, losing by football scores to the struggling Yankees and the lowly Nationals.

There was even some crazy California preacher predicting the end of the world. Two percent of us would be immediately "raptured" to heaven, he said. The rest would be on an express elevator to you know where, the place with the flames and the suffering. And all this would occur "around 6 p.m."

(Around 6 p.m.? I'm sorry, but if you're calling for the end of the world and getting people all upset, shouldn't you be a little more precise than that? I wouldn't want to relax my guard at, say, 6:03 and then — boom! — all the rapturing and elevator-riding start two minutes later.)

So we needed something to feel good about ourselves, and the 136th running of the Preakness filled the bill perfectly.

On a gorgeous sun-dappled day, with temperatures in the mid 70's, a huge, festive crowd turned out for this town's signature sporting event, infusing dilapidated Old Hilltop with much-needed life.

The swells gathered in their seersucker suits and sundresses and flowery hats in the corporate tents. The serious bettors, peering nervously at the Daily Racing Form with furrowed brows, scurried around the grandstand. And the great unwashed took over the infield, where they hooted at bikini contests, watched pro beach volleyball, listened to Train and Bruno Mars and drank enough beer to float the Norwegian Princess cruise ship.

And speaking of beer, there was good news on that front!

After hearing infield fans complain last year about the long lines for the $20 Bottomless Mug promotion, Preakness officials decided, by God, that they wouldn't stand for people not getting hammered if they wanted to.

So they streamlined the process this year and added a whole lot of extra beer lines. Which made it an absolute breeze to get knee-walking drunk, if that's what you had your heart set on.

"I think I was in and out of there in two minutes," said Matt Brady of Philadelphia, a 29-year-old accountant I ran into just after he'd filled his Bottomless Mug.

Brady — who, for the record, was not hammered — said this was his first visit to the Preakness.

But he said he was mightily impressed with the event, and for reasons other than the super-fast beer lines.

"Just the scale of it!" he said. "You hear about it as a big-time event. But it's even bigger than you imagine."

I had vowed to say no more in this space about the insipid Kegasus ad campaign, designed to lure young people to the infield to party their brains out.

But then I got an up-close-and-personal look at Kegasus himself yesterday. And let me say this: In the bright sunshine, a guy with biker hair, a beer gut and a nipple ring, dressed in a cheesy horse costume, looks even more depressing than he does in those stupid TV commercials.

For some reason that no one could quite explain, Kegasus was chosen to say a few words to the crowd before Train took the stage.

He was not exactly William Jennings Bryan, you'll be shocked to know. Instead, he delivered a rambling series of corny jokes ("Beauty is in the eyes of the beer-holder") that would make Jay Leno throw himself in front of a bus.

He signed off by urging the crowd to "Be Legendary!" in its partying. And then he waddled off, dragging his little centaur hindquarters, which are actually perched on little wheels instead of hooves and look like something from a Fisher-Price toy.

It was kind of sad to see. But then I wandered over to the cornhole tournament and ran into Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, who told me a funny story that reaffirmed my faith in the duplicity of humanity.

It turned out Cundiff was teamed with Scott Reardon of 98 Rock against a husband and wife from Annapolis in their first game.

Right before the game started, the husband picked up a beanbag and murmured: "You know, I'm really not any good at this … "

But this turned out to be like the guy who shows up in a pool hall with a custom-made $2,000 cue and says: "How do you play this game anyway?"

Because a few minutes later, the Annapolis man was drilling beanbags into the hole like a pro, and the Cundiff-Reardon team was taking it on the chin.

Cundiff summed up the game like this: "He tried to sandbag us and then he crushed us. That's all you gotta know."

Only later did the man's wife cop to the fact that her husband plays cornhole every Monday night for hours on end at the Elk's Club.

It was a heartwarming story. And it confirmed something we've all known for years: Even if you don't know a thoroughbred from a plow horse, there's something for everyone at the Preakness.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on V1370 AM Sports.)

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