A cold wind blasted up from the south and the sky was steel grey. I was walking through a patchwork of emerald green paddocks where I once walked as a child with my parents, picking mushrooms. The mushrooms still pop up occasionally but these days the fields are given over to another purpose.
I walked along a fence line and saw a horse standing in the cold air in the middle of the paddock. I came closer. The horse seemed to be on a slight lean. It was old. Its eye was on me. It picked up its hooves and ambled over. I walked slowly along, outside the fence. The horse followed me a little way, and then its attention was drawn by another horse in the corner of the field.
I came to a gate. On it a sign read: Fields of Omagh. Suddenly I heard a thunderclap. It sounded like 30,000 people screaming, willing a horse past a finishing post on a tight, curved racecourse track. Then silence.
Another paddock. Another old horse. Another sign: Might and Power. The noise and vision this time was a much larger crowd, a louder noise, a longer track, an interminable distance, a horse well in front, just in front, a short half head ... Silence.
I walked on. It was like a dream. More senior steeds. They came out of their middle distances like ghosts, some grey, hobbling. Some shared fields. Two were nipping each other in play as I watched.
Once millions of eyes had been on these creatures; now just mine. More signs. Brew. Chief de Beers. Maluckyday. Rogan Josh. Paris Lane. Zipping. (Zipping! Four Sandown Classics on the gallop!)
You can book a guided tour and they tell you about the horses. Going on your own is better. In a sports-mad city like Melbourne, this is a religious experience. Not 'quasi-': this is the real thing. Decades of winners standing stolidly in the fields, you, the grey sky, and no sound except the gentle pad of an approaching horse; and if you're lucky, a deep, muffled cough that was once a triumphant whinny.