Nobody gives a damn about the 2019 Preakness Stakes.
None of the top four finishers in the Kentucky Derby even bothered shipping to Pimlico for this year’s race. Country House, the Derby winner by way of a stewards’ ruling, is sitting it out with a cough. Meanwhile, connections to deposed first-place finisher, Maximum Security, put the horse back in the barn while they filed longshot lawsuits and whined about the takedown. What’s left is a starpowerless 13-horse field, with Bob Baffert’s Improbable as the expected favorite.
Yeah, this race could really use some Kegasus.
For those who never came across the Preakness’s “Party Manimal,” or did and blacked out: Kegasus was both the most effective and most appalling mascot in the 144-year history of the race, and maybe in the history of history even. The primary aim of the half-man, half-horse, full-blown alcoholic, dubbed “Lord of the InfieldFest!”, was to promote a binge-drinking opportunity to racegoers.
Kegasus was an equal and opposite reaction to the decision by Maryland racing authorities to discontinue the traditional BYOB policy for the Preakness beginning in 2009. Attendance immediately fell below 80,000 for the first time in years.
Panic ensued. Kegasus to the rescue! Kegasus ads beginning with the 2011 race made no mention of the storied past of one of the world’s oldest sporting events. No, the focus was almost entirely on the the $20 all-you-can-drink special being offered to racegoers, called the “Mug Club,” which promised “more taps and a bigger mug” than previous Preakness beer blasts. There were also mentions of infield concert and a “bikini contest.”
The Kegasus campaign was the brainchild of Elevation, a communications firm with offices in Washington, D.C. On its website, Elevation brags that the racing campaign for the Preakness “celebrated its iconic truths and presented it to the public in fresh, new, irreverent, classy, memorable and positive tones.” (Only in Baltimore could Bottomless Mug! + Bikini Contest! = Classy!)
The dirtball centaur, who wielded his medieval blowing horn like a beer bong and yelled “Be legendary!”, was played to amazing effect by actor John C. Bailey, who when on two legs seemed like the kind of guy Kegasus would want to scrap with in the mud of the Pimlico infield. Bailey had previously worked on ad campaigns with such anti-Preakness themes as responsible drinking (in work for Checkpoint Strikeforce, a multi-state anti-booze confab) and the humane treatment of animals. And don’t look for any Mug Club membership on Bailey’s track record: While the bio for Kegasus in Preakness PR handouts had such tidbits as “Favorite Dessert: Draft Beer,” the resume Bailey posted on his personal Youtube channel crowed about being “clean and sober for 20 years.” (Bailey did not respond to requests for comment about his Kegasus days, though he did hang up on me in a 2012 interview.)
The spots raised some honest concerns right out of the gate. Jason Loviglio, a University of Maryland media professor, told UPI that the Kegasus promotions meant Preakness marketers were inviting fans “to pursue sunstroke and alcohol poisoning.” Maryland racing officials put Kegasus out to pasture or into rehab in 2013.
But there’s plenty of evidence that Kegasus and the booze-over-Barbaro shtick had done its job: Elevation says that during its years promoting the race, “attendance at the Preakness Stakes climbed from 78,000 to over 130,000.”