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Alas, poor Kegasus . . .

BALTIMORE - Kegasus the centaur was Lord of the InfieldFest for the previous two Preaknesses. Sad to say, the half-man, half-horse with the nipple piercing was not here Saturday after Pimlico officials decided to go in another direction. Now the outrageous manimal has departed for parts unknown.

So there goes another Preakness tradition, flushed away like "The Running of the Urinals." (You can check out that booze-fueled sprint across the roofs of portable toilets on YouTube). Kegasus was a great interview because he would say things no one else had ever imagined. A source told Newsday that Kegasus "might have started believing his own press clippings," which may have contributed to his banishment.

Someone you would not have expected to pay any attention to Kegasus -- none other than the Archbishop of Baltimore -- mentioned him Thursday at Pimlico's Alibi Breakfast. During his invocation, Archbishop William E. Lori said if any bad luck befell Pimlico on Preakness day, maybe it could be traced to Kegasus.

In the charismatic creature's absence, the infield party went on. Perhaps a few revelers consumed adult beverages in his honor, which would have gladdened Kegasus' heart.

Rosie riveting

One of jockey Rosie Na- pravnik's first mentors was trainer Holly Robinson. When Napravnik was 16, she moved to Maryland to begin galloping horses and paying her dues. Their first meeting, in the summer of 2004, was memorable if not particularly cordial. "Holly shook my hand and said, 'Pleased to meet you. I hate girl riders and I hate apprentice riders,' " Napravnik said.

That was business, not personal. Robinson was only half-serious, because she taught Napravnik well. They remain close, and Napravnik rode a horse for her Friday at Pimlico.

Napravnik, 25, finished third on Mylute on Saturday in her Preakness debut. She reflected Friday morning on her lifelong love of horses. "I'm a horsey girl," the New Jersey native said. "I was the 3-year-old kid who was hugging the horse's hind legs."

Napravnik, one of the nation's best riders, has soft hands, an excellent sense of pace and the strength to finish strong. She's confident and fearless but realizes her success is not just about her.

"I've worked really hard to get where I am," she said, "but I think a lot of it came from being in the right place at the right time. Going to ride in New Orleans was scary at first, but riding at the Fair Grounds worked out great. I've gotten really lucky, and I've had great people behind me."

Orb's unsung hero

She's been Orb's devoted companion since January, and this week, Jennifer Patterson jogged and galloped him in the morning before holding his shank as he grazed outside the stakes barn. Trainer Shug McGaughey singled out Orb's regular exercise rider for her contribution to his remarkable development during the winter and spring.

"Without her, we wouldn't be here," McGaughey said. "Her riding ability, her horsemanship and her dedication to the whole thing have been terrific. The rapport between her and me is special."

Patterson, 32, a native of Wilmington, Del., has been with McGaughey's staff for six years. It's the first time she's been connected with the Triple Crown series.

Lukas' now 6-for-40

When the mainstream media parachutes into the Triple Crown series, sometimes the questions get strange. The other day, someone asked 77- year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas how he had won the Preakness 37 times. Lukas had entered the Preakness a record 37 times (now 40) and Oxbow gave him his sixth Preakness win Saturday. Will Take Charge (seventh) and Titletown Five (ninth) were his other two Preakness starters on Saturday.

Lukas let the clueless questioner down easy, just as fellow Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham did many years ago when confronted with a similar absurdity. A racing newbie at Churchill Downs asked the Bald Eagle if his horse had ever run in the Kentucky Derby before.

Whittingham said, "No, this is his first time."

Presumably, it was also the journalist's.

New York Sports