Fans finally return in Melbourne
It was a sight for sore eyes - fans finally back at the races in metropolitan Melbourne on one of the biggest days of the year, Penfolds Victoria Derby Day.
When the clock struck 10:20am the gates were flung open and hundreds of spectators once again raced to their patch of the pristine Flemington lawns while others filled the stands.
It's been a long time coming after spectators were barred from last year's entire Spring Carnival and then unable to attend any meeting during the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate Carnivals, but thankfully this year is a different story.
Neither an overcast Melbourne spring day or intermittent showers could dampen the spirits of the 5500 people lucky enough to be trackside.
Draped in traditional black and white attire, patrons were carefully spaced out and had to stay in designated areas, all as part of the Victoria Racing Club's COVID-safe plan agreed with the Victorian State Government.
It's hoped Saturday's return of crowds signals a new beginning for Victorians after the best part of two years decimated by lockdowns and restrictions.
And it's not only those enjoying a day out at the races who are pleased to have crowds back - for months it's also been a lonely return to scale for jockeys after winning a big race.
"It's great to have them (fans) back here today and it certainly adds to the atmosphere when you're walking in and when you're riding," leading hoop Damien Oliver said with a beaming smile.
"There's no doubt any sport, let alone racing, is much better with people here."
After experiencing an emphatic reception following his Victoria Derby win, John Allen agreed having won the Cox Plate in front of empty stands seven days earlier at The Valley.
An increased crowd of 10,000 will return to Flemington on Tuesday for the Melbourne Cup and also on Oaks Day on Thursday and Stakes Day the following Saturday.