The first race was supposed to start hours ago but the only spectacle for the thousands of punters are two graders scraping muddy dirt, hoping it becomes a racetrack.
Only in Birdsville. Only at the Birdsville Races.
“This’ll be only in Birdsville, you’d never see a grader on a racetrack anywhere in south east Queensland,” livestock agent Terry Ryan said.
“Anything the Birdsville people put their heart behind, they make it happen.”
For more than 3,000 people who attended the 2022 Birdsville Races in a tiny town on the edge of the Simpson Desert, just reaching race day was a victory.
Friday’s scheduled first day was a wash out, after Birdsville received three times the town’s average rainfall for September in one day.
‘Miracle on dirt’
With more than 24mm of rain over two days, campsites became muddy swamps and the race track was too wet to race.
Organisers worked around the clock to give tourists the racing experience they’d travelled hundreds of kilometres for.
Graders were working on the track up until the start of racing on Saturday, with tourists cheering on the heavy machinery as loud as they cheered the horses.
It was reminiscent of the event’s last wash out in 2016.
“I was a wee bit sceptical about whether we could race or not,” race caller Josh Fleming said.
“We called it the miracle on dirt in 2016, now it’s the miracle on dirt, mark 2, in 2022.”
For tourists, battling the mud and rain has been chalked up to another part of their adventure into the desert.
Brisbanite Amanda Shipway said their ‘Coights on tour’ convoy travelled through the Simpson Desert to make it to the Birdsville Races.
“We’ve heard about people being bogged, cars left behind, gear being left behind,” Ms Shipway said.
“We drove into Birdsville into wet, mud, revolt, slush.
“It’s fantastic the races are back on, we’re planning to win on the first race.”
‘It took us seven days to get here’
Businesses were also relieved the races went ahead.
One hot-chip vendor had trucked in more than a tonne of potatoes ahead of the event.
“It took us seven days to get here so the fact we can get down here, it’s amazing,” hot chip connoisseur Stacey Bertalli said.
The iconic Birdsville Cup was taken out by Northern Territory horse Sacharo ridden by Longreach-based jockey Robert Faehr.
“Heading down the straight … I had a few tears coming in my eyes, because I knew I was travelling that easily and I had it,” Mr Faehr said.
Looming shadow of alleged jigger use
But there was a looming shadow over the races following controversy earlier in the week.
On Wednesday, Queensland Racing suspended the licences of two thoroughbred horse racing participants.
It came after a photo was widely circulated allegedly depicting a jockey holding an object in his hand that looks similar to a jigger at Birdsville race track on Tuesday.
Queensland’s Racing Integrity Commission (QRIC) is investigating the photo.
The Birdsville Races will continue today, to make up for Friday’s postponement.