IT'S long been a favourite on the social calendar of many Victorians, and finally I had the chance to see it for myself.
The Dunkeld Cup, one of the state's most iconic country race meetings, lived up to expectation yesterday with brilliant sunshine and enough action on, and off, the track to keep the punters entertained.
It took just one step off the bus from Ballarat to understand why the event receives the rave reviews each year.
Set at the foot of the towering Mt Abrupt, the picturesque course is a sight to behold.
With buses lining the adjoining paddock, there were hundreds streaming through the gates when we arrived a little late to catch the first race on the card.
But as we found our place near the betting ring we soon making up for lost time and keeping the bookies busy.
With small fields and few short-priced favourites, picking a winner was proving difficult, as was trying to stay out of the sun.
Despite predictions of an overcast day, the sun emerged in the early afternoon with plenty bite.
Soon red noses and shoulders were the norm but the thousands of girls in colourful frocks weren’t complaining.
Although experienced Dunkeld Cup racegoers admitted crowd numbers were down on the years when alcohol was allowed to be brought into the event, the venue still appeared packed with Ballarat, Warrnambool and Hamilton all well represented.
"It’s always a great day out," said Danny from Warrnambool who was catching up with mates from all over the state.
"It’s probably the setting, but it’s just a relaxed day at a pretty beautiful track," he said.
"It’s a long way to go to get to Melbourne for the Spring Carnival, but only short trip to Dunkeld on a bus from Warrnambool.
"It’s also only 20 bucks to get in, which is fair bit cheaper than some meets."
Soon the feature race, the Royal Mail Hotel William Thompson Dunkeld Cup, was upon us with eight starters vying for the trophy.
In a tight finish it was Miners Rest trained New Zealand horse Pennon that found the line first, capping an amazing spring for the tiny town on the edge of Ballarat.
The success of trainer Andrew Payne follows the Country Cup dominance of neighbour Darren Weir, who claimed both the Bendigo and Kyneton Cup.
But while all eyes were on the track for the feature race, festivities off it soon resumed.
Aaron from Ballarat said it was the meet its self that keeps people coming back.
"We’ve been coming for years and it never disappoints."
"This year it’s my brother’s bucks day so there is about 40 of us spread out around the track.”
Country Racing Victoria spokesperson Darren Galley said the Dunkeld Cup had become an annual pilgrimage for people right across Victoria.
"Dunkeld is one of those phenomenons that has grown beyond just a race meeting to become a whole-town event," he said.
When the last race failed to deliver a much needed winner, we headed for bus, and the slow crawl out of the course.
While the event does wonders for the Dunkeld economy, it also does wonders for pubs in the regions.
The Lake Bolac hotel was overflowing when we stopped for a quick feed, keeping the punters hydrated for the long trip home.
And while we arrived at our destination a little weary, plans to attend next year's Cup were already being made.