In past years, it was easier for the punters flowing through Caulfield Racecourse's main gates to ignore the protesters' grim chants.
Not so this year. The ABC's revelations of racehorses sent off for torture and slaughter, precisely timed to detonate at the start of the spring racing carnival, made the issue inescapable.
The real questions on Saturday at a cold, windy and eventually rainswept Caulfield Cup were: did this mean all horse racing was cruel? And, ultimately: do you care? "I think it's a pretty piss-poor performance," said Ethan Foster, referring to the horseracing protesters. "People don't mean to do whatever to horses on purpose. It's just a job," added friend Daniel Worsley as they waited to head into the track.
The third member of the trio, Joe Bolton, worked in the horse industry. "[I've seen] the horses more than [the protesters] would see them, and they get looked after as good as any pet in a backyard; it's incredible," he said. "But sometimes it's the same as a dog. If you have a bad dog, you have a bad dog.
"If you have a bad horse, you have a bad horse. What do you do with a bad horse?"
On the other side of a wire barrier, about 40 protesters from the Coalition for the Protection of Race Horses yelled their answer: "a bullet to the head". Their numbers had swelled after the ABC's story. "People have been calling us and crying on the phone," protest spokeswoman Kristin Leigh said. "Would you dress in a fascinator to the knackery? Would you walk through blood in your high heels?" Ms Leigh yelled at the crowd, her voice amplified by a megaphone.
That drew a raised middle finger from one passing racegoer, while another was moved to defend herself. "It's fun!" she yelled.
Ms Leigh had her own message for racegoers: "People have a choice not to support this. As long as people support this industry, it will continue. It's all about making money. "This is a horse-slaughter industry. They have an economic partnership with the slaughterhouses to make this industry as economically profitable as possible."
Other opinions were more mixed. "Walking in today, I'm not feeling good about it. 100 per cent," said racegoer Kelly Shacklack. "But that's one piece of the picture. There is a whole lot more to the story.
"I'm sure that horses are looked after by part of the industry. But overall it does not make you feel good."
Catherine and Isabella were among a large group of friends who were attending Caulfield for the fourth time. The cruelty allegations were "nothing we did not already know, I guess", said Isabella.
"I've owned horses for a long time, one of them being an ex-racehorse," said Catherine. "While there are problems in the industry, the industry is not going to shut down so you may as well support people who are doing the right thing. Support the good trainers. And a lot of thoroughbreds do go to really good homes. But there are issues."
- The Age/SMH