We set out for a day at the races – but not any races – Broome races; where most people trackside seem to know even less about horses and jockeys than we do.
Clearly, by reputation, Broome races are a social event for the both rich and struggling, the expert and the novice.
At Broome races you can take your own table, chair, cooler, drinks and, as we did, a packed lunch. These are not compulsory but we followed some local advice and it worked.
The racecourse setting is magnificent. Outside the members’ enclosure there’s plenty of grassed area under magnificent, spreading, shade-giving trees.
Bookies are cheek-by-jowl with punters in the grassed seating and horses parade alongside. Some tables are provided with more under sail-type cover but are further from the action. So best to BYO fold-up table and chairs.
Food outlets are limited, bars are jam-packed and high heels might be risky treading the grass to the bookies, bar and outdoor dunnies.
But we are here for the fun, down to the ridiculous sartorial get-outs: blokes’ daggy, matching shorty-pyjamas, hats (big, small and self-styled), riding boots and designer thongs (for the feet).
But the Broome Cup is no laughing matter. Jockeys, trainers and horses come the long distance from Perth or further to get in the Kimberley swing with a chance of taking home a cheque: $88,000 for first, $30,000 for second, $13,500 for third.
Track-talk was about blossoming women jockeys, apparently boosted by female jockeys’ maximum weight being raised. Last year, for the first time, a woman, Simone Altieri from Perth, was first across the Broome Cup line.
Shock-of-shocks, we’re told there have been races where the first four places were ridden by fairer-sex jockeys.
But Blokes have had a good crack at the Broome Cup. Jockey Peter Hall has won a room full of Broome Cups and we watched as he came home on 2018 winner Diamond Tonique.
Broome racecourse is picturesquely-poised as the road turns to red dust and across the road from aquamarine Gantheaume Point – convenient for racehorses needing a cooling-off or for training.
To beach-goers’ delight, horse carriers periodically pull-up on the foreshore and discharge their prized cargoes. Strappers ride or lead them into the sea where they walk their laps – boats bobbing in the distance and tourists heading out for whale-watching.
The racetrack is unique, having been oiled over the years to keep it compact for the races it is the sporting and social highlight of the Kimberley. Turf club manager Paul Rossiter tells me that these days, soil is trucked from around Fitzroy Crossing and with some light watering, does the trick.
Up in the ‘gods’, a.k.a. the members’ pavilion, punters get a birds-eye view of proceedings and a swish lunch is laid on for paying customers. Dotted along the pavilion are sponsors’ hospitality tents, in prime viewing position for those invited guests who actually want to watch the races.
For many of us 8,000 customers, the Broome Cup (entrance fee $20) is all about the atmosphere – plus a rare chance in Broome to get out of shorts and T-shirts in this warm and sunny paradise.
For the record: We punted a couple of bucks each on nag numbers 1 and 2. A first and second. Winnings: About $5.