During Preakness week, you can't help but think back to the sagas of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Barbaro - all owned by lifelong Philadelphia-area residents - since the Preakness was so often the linchpin. In 2004, Smarty Jones won at Pimlico Race Course by the greatest Preakness margin since 1873, the first running of the Preakness. The following year, Afleet Alex stumbled and righted himself, with jockey Jeremy Rose hanging on, as the colt won a most memorable Preakness. But the most memorable was certainly the most tragic, the heartbreaking breakdown of Barbaro just strides out of the gate in 2006.

Questions from that day - May 20, 2006 - remain unanswerable, such as whether Barbaro's premature break from the gate had anything to do with his breakdown and subsequent catastrophic injuries. Barbaro lived until the following January, when laminitis forced him to be put down.

The year before, Afleet Alex's recovery had been a feel-good tale, with five Philly-area everyman owners, joining together on their first horse, who ultimately won two legs of horse racing's Triple Crown after missing a Kentucky Derby win by a length. One of the owners teared up afterward, thinking of how close the horse had come to a different fate.

How is it even possible that the dominance displayed by Smarty Jones in the 2004 Preakness - when the Kentucky Derby winner won the second jewel by 111/2 lengths - was only the third-most memorable of the three Preakness stories?

The glory of Kegasus

Whether the latest Preakness Stakes marketing campaign is stupidly brilliant or brilliantly stupid, that's beside the point - it has proved to be a winner. At least the Kegasus campaign is getting credit for Preakness advance ticket sales' being up. Those tickets are mostly being sold to folks no doubt headed straight for Pimlico's infield, the most brilliantly stupid place to be on Saturday. Many infield revelers will spend Saturday without noticing the horses occasionally circling their muddy bacchanal. (And a great portion of the revelers make their way down I-95 from this area.)

Kegasus is a simple reminder that while urinal racing may now be outlawed at Pimlico, those who miss it are still honored guests. Kegasus, the new Preakness spokes-centaur, is "part champion thoroughbred, part infield fan, and all party manimal." That's right, half horse, half shirtless dude with a nipple ring.

And you're still sure that End of Days guy is wrong about the Apocalypse coming Saturday?

Where in the world is . . .

Mark Karcher? We'll stay with the Philly-Baltimore theme here. On Thursday, the former Temple hoops star will be one of the inaugural inductees into the Baltimore Catholic League Hall of Fame. Karcher led St. Frances Academy to three consecutive Baltimore Catholic League titles, and was tournament MVP all three years. After his Temple days, Karcher played professionally in France, and now coaches St. Frances.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.