AS THE first day of spring got off to a drizzly start, aged care residents and students from Quarry Hill Primary School waited excitedly for the arrival of a few special visitors.
Bethlehem Aged Care was the first stop in Bendigo for the Emirates Melbourne Cup Tour, which has been making its way around towns and cities in the lead-up to this year's race.
As champion racehorse Subzero entered the room, there was a brief hush of silence.
"He's a beautiful horse," resident Esma Coleman said. "He's so tame and gentle."
Following close behind was jockey Bob Skelton, who rode Van der Hum to victory in the 1976 Melbourne Cup, as well as the prize itself.
Skelton said he was happy to be on the tour.
"It's a pleasure and an honour to go back down memory lane and think of the great times in my career - especially winning the Melbourne Cup," he said.
"It's the holy grail of racing. It's the ultimate, the pinnacle."
Next stop was Quarry Hill Primary School, where students shot their hands into the air to ask questions about the size of the champion racehorse's lungs, and what kind of food he eats.
Teacher Craig Harrop said his students had been looking forward to the visit all day.
"It's good for their general knowledge and good for a bit of Australian history as well, in terms of them knowing who won the cup," he said.
"Being able to see a thoroughbred racehorse up close is an opportunity that not many people get, really."
Kim Gordon, care co-ordinator at Carsharlton House Hostel, the next destination for the entourage, said the residents enjoyed the visit and described it as "very special."
"They're all so excited," she said.
"We've had a hat parade, a best-dressed contest and a beautiful barbecue lunch."
Tour manager Joe McGrath said he hoped the tour would help the community to feel part of the great tradition and inspire the young students.