The two men in checked jackets stood near the $10 window and looked disdainfully at the crowd milling around them.

"Preakness," one snorted. "Ain't even worth a bet. Who needs it? All it means is mobs, goddam mobs."

His sidekick, staring down at his racing form, was more philosophical. "Try to treat it like just another day, Mike," he offered. "Make your bets and go home."

To the two bettors, dailty horse players, the 104th running of the Preakness today was nothing more than a nuisance. It meant hordes of strangers invading the Pimlico Race Course and a carnival atmosphere that was nothing more than a distraction.

But to most of the other 72,607 people jammed into the picturesque 109-year-old track the day is something special, in some cases unique.

"I've been here [Baltimore] four years now," said Bob Contini, a senior at Johns Hopkins. "I figured the Preakness infield is something you gotta do once."

The infield crowd of barefooted and denimed participants filled the grassy oval within the dirt track. The youthful crowd seemed more attuned to the rock group "Nantucket" that was playing from a bandstand than the day of races.

"I'm just here to watch the kids, especially the girls," said Harry Gilson, sitting up straight as a tall girl in a white halter top strolled by. "I've been out there the last 14 years."

A few feet away, Phil and Kerry puffed a marijuana cigarette. "We just met today," Phil said. "I was driving down from Havre de Grace and she was hitchin' here."

"Eh, how old are you," he asked his female companion, who had her head buried in a towel. "Fourteen," came the muffled answer as Phil blinked in amazement. Phil is 23.

In the grandstand area, the prices, the food and the people are quite different. This is the middle ground between upper crust, three-piece-suit crowd in the clubhouse and the infield.

Most of the people here are bettors but not in the business-like vein of the daily bettor. Nevertheless, programs are thrown in disgust when a horse just misses winning and the mood during a race is tense.

Bill Silverman walked up to a bartender to ask for a Black Eyed Susan. As he poured, the Bartender pulled a $10 bill from his pocket. "You betting the exacta?" he asked. When Silverman nodded, the bartender handed him the $10. "Here, I can trust you, bet me the one and nine horses."

On the fourth level is the clubhouse where waiters in black ties serve drinks in a formal style at the fancy Jockey Club where there are no prices on the menu.

"Anyone who comes in here doesn't need to know the prices," said one waitress as she took four orders of prime rib to a table. "These cost $9.50 if you're interested."

One floor down in the Hall of Fame restaurant, which resembles a Washington cafeteria at noon, the price for the prime rib is on the menu: $8.50. You pay an extra dollar for not knowing the price upstairs.

The thousands of spectators who cram into the Northwest Baltimore race track come expecting to spend money.

Almost from the moment one gets within a mile of Pimlico on Preakness day, one is offered the opportunity to spend money. Parking near the track was going for up to $20 a crack as people jammed as many cars as they could into their back yards.

"How you going to get these people out,' one enterpreneur was asked. "Don't know and I don't care," the man answered shoving a wad of bills into his pocket.

Outside the track, peddlers were selling everything from popcorn to daisies painted black in the middle to resemble Black Eyed Susans - the Preakness flower, which does not bloom until later summer. Others were passing around petitions against nuclear power.

"Look," said Irma Allen, who had set up a grill against the fence and was selling hamburgers for $2 each, "it happens once a year; why not take advantage?"

The one group that did not have to pay the inflated prices for food, drink and parking was the press. There were 709 reporters, according to a press release, who were treated to unlimited food and drink and their own private betting windows.

Even though they were allegedly unbiased, they lined up at the parimutuel windows, put down their bets and tossed their programs in disgust when their horses lost.

Like other participant, some reporters issued the familiar refrain: the Preakness comes once a year.