IN PICS: Australia’s wildest racing carnival
IT STARTS with all the glitz and glam of the prestigious Melbourne Cup Carnival - and it ends with the messiness and wild antics of a Guns N' Roses after-party circa the 1990s.
The Darwin Cup is an eight-day carnival stretched over a month and one of the most popular - and colourful - annual events on the Northern Territory's social calendar.
It attracts some 40,000 racegoers from all over the country to Darwin's Fannie Bay Racecourse during the Top End's stunning dry season, as southern states battle wintry chills in July and August.
As the carnival crescendos towards Darwin Cup Day - also known as "the race that stops the Territory" - an influx of punters and racegoers descend on the Top End.
But it's the drunken debauchery the event is synonymous with that really sets it apart from the rest. And it's all set to take place tomorrow.
Darwin Cup Day is a melting pot of stifling heat, free-flowing booze, punting and an unwavering collective commitment to partying hard: a recipe that never fails to deliver when it comes to wild trackside antics.
In the heaving general grandstand areas, trackside pavilions and centrefield corporate marquees, hordes of interstate visitors traditionally mix with punters, celebrities, the who's who of the racing industry, and locals either dressed to the nines or in mankinis, smurf outfits, bumble bee suits and drag.
While many of the punters come for the racing, it's what happens later in the day that's often so bizarre it goes on to become urban legend or - occasionally - ends up on the front page of the local newspaper and beyond.
From groups of blokes using a breathalyser tent to see who can blow the biggest numbers, to a reveller dancing the entire day away wearing a horse's head, and a couple of girlfriends "dry-humping" for news cameras outside the event: that's when things are just getting started. It's a place where letting - and getting - loose is the order of the day.
It's a long tradition that some supporters say made way for the infamous "bin-riding" incident at the Melbourne Cup in 2015 in which a racegoer was filmed mounting an otto bin and riding it like it was a horse. The woman was revered by her peers and admirers from afar who called for her to be recognised as a national icon.
"What a lot of people didn't realise at the time was that there were many who came before her at the Darwin Cup," one observer, who didn't want to be named, told news.com.au.
"They deserve credit for paving the way."
But the Darwin Cup isn't all champagne, designer dresses and bin-riding.
The event is often punctuated with violence with some individuals and groups ending up in vicious brawls with each other, security or police. In previous years, bottles have been smashed and some punters have been put in headlocks as fists fly around them.
"People are punching and beating the sh*t out of each other right there," one racegoer told the NT News in 2014.
It's the dark side of the event, often fuelled by alcohol, which has turned many locals off ever returning again.
"The Cup Day itself is great but then it's an absolute disgrace what you see at the end of the day, and its been happening for years and what will happen to the idiots? Nothing, a slap on the wrist and come back next year for another go at being an idiot," one racegoer previously wrote on Facebook.
"Gotta love Darwin shenanigans," another wrote.
"It's called too much drink too early in the heat, makes for a bad concoction! Not a pretty site," another said.
It's a bucket list carnival for many horse trainers, but there's much more to a win at the Darwin Cup than just flying in for the big race, with tens of millions of dollars in prize money at stake.
"It's just one of those must-do carnivals," Thoroughbred Racing NT chief executive Andrew O'Toole told the ABC.
The carnival has steadily grown since the early 2000s, when race organisers started targeting trainers in southern states, with some 130 horses now brought in weeks before the event to adapt to the weather and dirt racing track.
It's a lucrative affair for the Territory as well with figures showing this year's carnival will inject an estimated $32 million into the local economy. But it only takes one look at the majority of racegoers at the Darwin Cup Carnival to realise the experience is priceless.