It is said the Melbourne Cup stops the nation. That’s definitely the case in the small town of Wentworth on the NSW-Victorian border.
Gregg Housden runs the town’s once-a-year Melbourne Cup race day and says the local event brings the place to a standstill.
“We’re the gateway to the outback, and run a carnival for Wentworth that culminates in the Wentworth Cup race meeting on Melbourne Cup day,” Housden said.
“People used to come from far and wide, it was one of the few community events around the district and we’re keeping that alive.
“Its all about the Wenty Cup races at this time of year, that’s for sure, and everything else basically shuts down.”
Wentworth, located where the Murray and Darling rivers meet, is one of many provincial and country turf clubs across the country that schedule races to coincide with the Melbourne Cup.
This year, there are some 18 race meetings planned in NSW for November 1, while 15 are planned in Queensland, and eight set down for Victoria.
Many more are run in other parts of the country, with thousands of people expected to fill country racecourses on the day.
In Wentworth, Housden expects a crowd of around 1500 to pack out the local showground for the five-race card.
He says many people will travel hundreds of kilometres just for the annual occasion.
“We attract them from a pretty fair area across the lower part of NSW, northeast South Australia, and northwest Victoria,” he says.
“I know we’ve got people coming from Adelaide and people coming from Wagga, down from Broken Hill, and people from Portland.”
He says the event’s unique outback character is another big drawcard.
“Farmer Tim from Farmer Wants a Wife is coming this year to judge our farmer the charmer section of fashions on the field,” he says.
“We make sure it’s a race meeting with a picnic style atmosphere, not a picnic race meeting, there is a difference.”
In the Northern Territory, Alice Springs Turf Club is similarly upbeat about its local take on the Melbourne Cup.
Chief executive Terry Hooten expects around 2000 race enthusiasts to attend the racecourse, making it the club’s best crowd outside its annual April carnival.
Hooten says Melbourne Cup day is always “one to remember” in the Alice, despite the different time zone, and the fact that it’s not a public holiday.
“The crowd is certainly fairly strong because of the idea that people just want to be at the track on that Cup day,” he says.
“But sadly, as it’s not a public holiday and because of the timing, people are sometimes more inclined to take their lunch break to watch it.”
Still, he says the location compensates for the 1.30pm start.
“The sun is always shining in Alice, so we can guarantee the warm weather and a lot of sunshine, unlike down in Melbourne,” he says.
On the west coast, Bunbury Turf Club also predicts a bumper crowd on Tuesday with an early start to the day due to the time difference.
Spokesperson Brody Russell reckons around 4000 people will watch the Cup via telecast then stick around for the local races.
He says the event, which includes live music and fashion contests, is a highlight on the regional calendar.
“Being our second biggest day we’ve got a lot of functions booked out,” he says.
“A lot come down after work, or knock off work early, it’s a really good day for the club.
“It’s also our second meeting for the year, so it gets us off to a good start.”
Russell says the only problem can be securing jockeys because of all the racing across the state on the day.
“A lot of the local jockeys stay in Perth so it gives the younger ones, the kids, the opportunity to ride in front of a big crowd,” he says.