BALTIMORE -- About 27 minutes before post time in the rowdy Preakness infield, two guys who looked like they'd entered a few gyms in their lives got into a tiff and then a scuffle.

Eventually, they went toppling onto a paved walkway, taking along with them another man and woman who each had sided with one of the pugilists, all in a four-human heap that riveted the gathered crowd even if people did feel for the woman.

As some police hauled the more squat of the brawlers and his bloody lips off down the lane, people did what people must do, obviously: They trailed the scene taking photos to record the beautiful memories of a day at the Preakness.

When eventually the muscle knot lay face down beneath police, shirtless in the gloomy chill, one couple stood nearby, making out, apparently mistaking this for Vancouver.

Those hour-long waits before the Triple Crown classics can seem interminable; how benevolent of these guys to fill time with some spectacle.

Seventeen minutes to post!

Other than that, it was another silly day at the annual Triple Crown chase, a cold dud that ruled out the Kentucky Derby winner Orb as a behemoth for the ages, defining him as merely fantastic, not historic.

He got stuck in a backstretch jam, slid out of contention toward the stretch and, in the glorious traditional track parlance, failed to menace, even if he did poke his head through two stragglers for fourth ultimately.

For the 35th consecutive spring, there will be no Triple Crown winner, and the dreary sentence, "No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978," fails to croak again, settling in for another year of dogged existence.

On the plus side, I went to a Preakness infield for the first time in 14 years, seeking a fresh read on the culture plus the compelling close-up view through the backstretch fence of the horse race blurring by.

Well, the culture still brims with kindness. For example, right off the bat amid the teeming infield throng I saw an able-bodied guy who could not walk for some unspecified reason, yet right there on hand was a friend to hold him up and keep him staggering along in very nearly a straight line.

It was almost enough to dredge a tear.

A woman in pink shorts took a nap next to the fence, and people routinely stopped to look in on her, no doubt caring for her well-being. When another woman needed help, paramedics carried her away in an ambulance cart, honking the horn and supplying her with oxygen.

Kindly people gave each other directions by indicating -- specifically and helpfully -- certain banks of porta-johns. Airplanes dragging ads overhead offered a free app if you typed "Orb" to a certain number, or a free drink at a strip club if you showed your ticket stub. (The charity of it all.) By the end of the day various people did lay prone and sleeping, but passersby took caution not to step on their heads.

Some people were drinking and some were not drinking but had been, although I cannot provide ironclad proof, so it was just a hunch. Some guys went shirtless even in the breezy low-60s chill, conjuring one of the foremost lyrics of 2013 (or any year): "That's a cold-a-honky."

Mysteriously, some people did not seem all that interested in horses.

Further, it did not resemble a convention of nutritionists. There was the usual array of arterial catastrophe: jumbo hot dogs, cheese steaks, cheese fries, and these sugar-coated waffle things that looked like they might reside in a corner of your stomach for up to seven years, installing a front sidewalk and a picket fence. A cigar stand? Yes, a cigar stand. There was the obligatory Red Bull tent, reminiscent of what can happen when a clever Austrian businessman riding in Bangkok taxis starts asking the drivers why they have so much late-night stamina (which led to the birth of Red Bull).

A frequent yellow sign with bold black lettering: COLD BEER BOMBS.

So Americans are kind to each other in times of duress, and consume a lot of crud.

Beyond that, there was a National Guard stand with apparent sign-ups, and I might like to nominate the hulk last seen having his bloody lips tended to before he took a ride in a small police van.

He looks pretty tough, even when face-down amid cops.

When post time does come, and the race does go around shabby old Pimlico -- some of the barns call to mind dilapidated parts of Mumbai -- it's compelling as ever when the horses surge by at eye level.

I had hoped to see Orb come around the backstretch into the final turn and think of Secretariat's jaw-dropping move here 40 years prior.

Instead as I ran over toward one of the giant video screens, I heard one guy say, "Who is that," and another guy say, "That's Oxbow."

That might not be much of a Triple Crown memory, but at least some of the infield patrons got to see a bit of boxing before things toppled over, and at least they can take home footage of police hauling off a guy, to show to family and friends for years to come.

Otherwise, when might we stop anticipating the next Triple Crown winner, getting swayed by a stout Derby performance like Orb's, deluding ourselves?

I know that answer: Never.

What fun would life be without deluding ourselves?