BALTIMORE - They call him Kegasus, and on a sunny Saturday morning the centaur was back for an encore as Lord of the InfieldFest, a rite of spring notorious for glorifying inappropriate behavior.
At 9:17, the Manimal tweeted from Pimlico’s infield: “The beer garden is in full bloom. It’s beautiful.’’ And the adult beverages would flow until sundown, when designated drivers would be in short supply. When the young partyers said “I’ll Have Another,” they rarely were discussing the Kentucky Derby winner.
The amiable half-man/half-beast has been reviled by local politicians as “a disgrace to the iconic image of the Preakness.” Apparently, these representatives of the people were not referring to “The Running of the Urinals,’’ a discontinued but fondly remembered infield tradition of sprinting across the tops of Porta Potties while dodging beer cans. (You can find it on YouTube.)
Because centaurs have the gift of time travel, Kegasus could get rich playing the horses, but he disdains insider training in short-term equine futures. Although he claimed to have known the identity of the 2012 Preakness winner long ago, he kept it to himself.
I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, went to high school in Southern California, where weirdness has a long tradition, but even he had to draw the line at Kegasus. When the creature’s name came up Wednesday, the laid-back O’Neill winced and said, “Just when you think you’re a little goofy, you see Kegasus and think, ‘I’m fine.’’’
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Hanging out with the world's most accomplished pony
Even before winning the Derby, I’ll Have Another had the distinction of hanging out with the world’s most accomplished stable pony. His constant companion in Louisville and Baltimore has been the 11-year-old gelding Lava Man, who earned more than $5.2 million, including more than $5 million after O’Neill claimed him for $50,000. O’Neill compares the partnership to having Arnold Palmer as your caddie.
“We like to think Lava Man has given I’ll Have Another some good tips in the morning,’’ O’Neill said. “It’s been a real pleasure to see Lava Man transform from a great racehorse into a great morning pony and chaperone. He and I’ll Have Another definitely have a real good rapport with one another.’’
Lava Man is fair but firm with his pupils. “If he’s with a real green baby, he’ll toughen up and be more studious,’’ O’Neill said, “but when he’s with I’ll Have Another, who’s a pretty classy, calm horse, Lava Man will kind of strut his stuff.
“He looks brilliant in the flesh and he’s a happy camper. We’re blessed to be with him and work with him every day.’’
Before a record crowd of 165,307 on Derby Day, Lava Man accompanied I’ll Have Another in the post parade. The old guy didn’t shed any tears when the band played “My Old Kentucky Home,’’ but O’Neill figured he might have been a bit confused by the mob scene.
“I’m sure he thought, ‘Hey, is this the senior tour? What are we doing here?’ ’’
Staying with the kid
When 25-year-old jockey Mario Gutierrez worked out I’ll Have Another for the first time in late January, he had trouble believing he’d get the mount. Even after they teamed to win the Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4 and the Santa Anita Derby two months later, there was speculation that O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam would switch to a more experienced rider for the Kentucky Derby.
In an interview with HRTV, Dennis O’Neill, assistant trainer to his younger brother, said: “It was discussed, but Paul’s a loyal guy and it was never going to happen. I’m a karma guy, and I thought replacing Mario would just be horrible karma.’’
Gutierrez was asked if the attention was too much for him. “It’s new, that’s for sure,’’ he said. “Yeah, before, nobody wanted to talk to me.’’