So who cared that Spend a Buck was a no-show? So who cared that it was tough to get a buck to bet out of the local savings and loan? So who cared that traffic was, as usual, horrendous, that the black-eyed Susans tasted like so much sour lemonade, that the Porta-John line was tougher to negotiate than the one leading to the $5 window?

"Hey, it's Preakness Day. We're here to party," said Leonard Miller of suburban Reisterstown, beer in hand, sitting in a small area a friend had roped off at 8 a.m. today. "I was a little mad when Spend a Buck decided not to come. But who needs him? It would never stop you from coming."

Certainly, it didn't stop 81,235 from coming out for a day at the races, even if most of the 40,000 revelers in the infield can't even see the races. Not that they care very much. As long as the beer stayed cold, satisfaction was almost guaranteed.

The biggest problem on this clear, sunlit day was the wind that wreaked a bit of havoc with the tents pitched on the infield grass. Later in the day, there would be other problems.

"By about 5 o'clock this place will be a zoo," said Marlene Schiech, the head nurse at the infield first-aid tent. "You can always count on a lot of cuts and charcoal burns, people walking into grills, that kind of thing. I've been doing this for seven years, and the best thing they ever did was last year, when they banned people from bringing glass containers in.

"Oh, it used to be just awful, all these people walking around barefoot. I used to cringe at the thought of it. Then you always get the 15- and 16-year-old kids who come here to take pills and drink. Last year we had a guy who was just crazy. I'm glad they put the police right next to us."

The Baltimore police had 72 men assigned to the infield, according to Sgt. Gary Maratta, a veteran of six Preakness Days.

"Last year, when they put in the restrictions, it made our job a lot easier," he said. "No glass bottles, no kegs of beer, no ladders. The ladders drove us crazy. People would stand on the ladders, block somebody's view, then get knocked off the ladders. We had some terrible fights out there, fights like you wouldn't believe. Now all we have to worry about are people bombed out of their minds. That's much easier to deal with, believe me."

Mondo bizarro? How about the guys with the Preakness hats featuring beer-can holders attached to the bills of the caps, with a straw running down to the mouth, for easy access? How about a lacrosse game going on in the middle of all this madness, with a referee constantly begging spectators, "Please keep the coolers off the field"?

Then there was Hank's 14th annual Preakness Party, an event started by Hank Berlin and a few of his friends that has grown from an intimate gathering of a dozen people to more than 500, with an official beer supplier and radio station.

"I was here at 6 a.m. setting up," said Berlin. "For $5 they get all they want to drink, so they bring their own food and everybody has a good time. By the time they run the Preakness, everybody is feeling pretty good, no question. So Spend a Buck's not here. The party rolls on no matter what. Most people don't even bet the horses."

There were other parties around the track. ABC took over the Winner's Circle lounge, and you could gawk at Howard Cosell and Jack Whitaker as you ate your crabcakes and strawberries and cream. Upstairs in the Jockey Club, Jimmy the Greek was offering advice to those who cared to listen, and Pimlico owner Herman Cohen was playing host to George Steinbrenner, the co-owner of Eternal Prince, among others at a private luncheon for 50.

Other faces in the crowd included Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Sam Huff and Miss Preakness, Sherry Glaeser of Catonsville, resplendent in a pink rayon dress with large black polka dots, spiked heels and black lace gloves. She was there to work the crowd, accompanied of course by her personal chaperon, who was there to keep the crowd away.

"I'm the second youngest in history," said the blond high school senior. "What's my job? I'm doing public relations. I give the trophy out. I'm here to meet the people."

Clearly, she came to the right place.