IT'S a long way from the manicured lawns and pink roses in full bloom at Flemington.
You drive into Wentworth racecourse to find the TAB in a battered old tin shed, an Egyptian racecaller, the state's oldest bookie, fashions in a woolshed and about a dozen battling jockeys and trainers. This is quintessential country racing.
A dirt track, 50-year-old pine trees ... and a wonderful bush atmosphere.
If the Melbourne Cup is the race that stops a nation, this is the event that stops a struggling little town with a population of 1200.
About 1000 of them have come for the 150th-year race celebrations.
There are no champions from France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, England, America or New Zealand.
These nags have come from places like Orroroo in country South Australia, Cobar and Balranald, Swan Hill and Strathalbyn to race for the $5820 first prizemoney.
MELBOURNE Cup Day is an unofficial half-day public holiday in Wentworth, which is three hours south of Broken Hill near the Victorian border.
The dozen or so shops, bank and post office closed at midday, although the newsagent stayed open for the last-minute rush for tickets in the $100 million OzLotto. Melbourne has its street parade, Wentworth has its big Calcutta night at the Services Club.
Combined with a $3 meal deal at the bistro, it's one of the club's busiest nights. So busy that club directors are out the back of the kitchen washing plates, glasses and cutlery.
ABDEL Elagaty is hardly a household name in Australian racing's commentary ranks.
Far from it. He's raised in Egypt and didn't arrive in Australia until he was 14.
"I couldn't speak a word of English," he says. "Now I'm calling the races."
He's no Ian Craig, John Tapp, Bill Collins or Greg Miles. Calling is a hobby for the 32-year-old.
He does dogs, trots and harness trials at country venues. This is his second Wentworth Cup. He goes OK but got the winner wrong in race two - and in the Cup.
THERE is no Tom Waterhouse or any of the big corporates in BMWs. Doug Carroll is 87 and says he is the state's oldest bookie.
He has driven down from Broken Hill in a battered old Falcon station wagon.
Carroll has done every Wentworth meeting since 1965. He was made a life member on Monday night.
He has been a bookie since 1958, twice arrested for illegal SP betting.
"When the TABs opened, that was the end of it as far as the police were concerned," he said.
These days, Doug only does five meetings a year. The old car wouldn't get him much further. He turned over about $5000 at yesterday's meeting.
FLEMINGTON charges $26,000 to entertain corporates. You get morning tea, a three-course lunch, the finest wines, your own TAB facility and pamper lounge services.
At Wentworth you can have one for $600 on the edge of the track.
You get 20 plastic chairs, an esky, three bags of ice, an old TV and a handful of racebooks.
Ziggys cafe in Mildura provides scrumptious-looking hampers.
MORE than 1300 accredited media are at Flemington, including 50 international media outlets.
The press contingent at Wentworth is three - photographer Attila Szilvasi, this columnist and a journo from the local weekly.
We work from a table under a veranda with an extension power cord running from the bar.
Fashions on the field at this racetrack is held on a stage in an old woolshed.
The local lasses are looking stunning.
There are no clothing shops in Wentworth but the boutiques in Mildura, 30km away, have obviously done a roaring trade this past week.
LIKE Flemington, Wentworth gets watered pre-race. Not to suit international horses but to ensure the dirt settles.
"Otherwise, you wouldn't the see the horses for the dust," says local Paul Ray.
Paul is a former taxation department executive from Melbourne who semi-retired in Wentworth after requiring a triple bypass.
Rain has been scarce. With his Border Collie Bill in the front seat, he has been driving a beaten-up old 1967 water truck around the course for the past two weeks to get it ready for cup day.
He sips on his can of VB for lap after lap at about 10km to sprinkle water pumped out of the nearby Murray River. The truck is so old and beaten that octopus straps are required to hold the bonnet down.
THEY have raced here most years since 1862. In the early days the horses raced down the main street of the town. The finishing line was the flag pole at the old Crown Hotel.
For more than 50 years it has been held on the first Tuesday in November at the town's showground.
"In 1937 someone absconded with our money and burnt the books," said committeeman Brad Clarke. "We were broke and couldn't race.
"In '56 we had the floods but we've got a strong committee now and there's no stopping us."
The club secretary is local bank teller Breeon Cole, a young mother who spends months organising the race day.
JOCKEYS are hard to find on cup day.
In NSW alone, there were 17 meetings across the state on Cup Day. Anyone under 60kg with a licence would get a decent book of rides.
Flemington had Frankie Dettori and all the champion Australian riders. Wellington had three apprentices in the cup and four females.
You would never have heard of them - Eran Boyd, Chenelle Ellis, Irish girl Tara O'Donnell and Maree Henderson. Murray Henderson, all the way from Alice Springs, rode an inspired race to win the cup on the 10-year-old Jeune Cheval.
Read more on the Herald Sun.