By Jodi Bryant

A popular radio host combo is returning to their former Northland stomping ground next week to present celebrations for the Melbourne Cup.

Mel and JT from the Coast weekday Drive show will be entertaining punters attending the Duke of Marlborough Hotel's annual Melbourne Cup celebration and they couldn't be more excited about returning to the place which holds fond memories for them both.

"I love sailing in Northland," enthuses Mel Homer, an avid sailor. "I spent many summers cruising the Bay of Islands and the surrounding coast. One of my favourite places is anchoring off Mimiwhangata. The water is crystal clear, it's just idyllic. I used to cruise these waters with my mum and dad, and now I do it with my kids."

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For JT, aka Jason Tikao, some of his early career days were spent in Northland and he recalls 'having a ball'.

"My whole time there was a happy memory. I met some of the best people I have ever met in my life in Northland. It has such a special place in my heart. I loved working for KCC FM back in the day. I remember one summer we were given a brand new Pajero car to drive around in so we could do promos and events. We were in Kerikeri one day, Russell or Paihia the next. I had a ball!"

The duo's friendship goes back to their early days in radio but their on-air broadcasting careers only united early this year to form Coast's national Drive show from 3pm-7pm. The pair bring a show that is more than just music – they review the big conversation points of the day, have some ideas for the evening ahead and help deliver some fun moments to lighten the drudgery of the evening commute home.

And it's this winning combination that has led to them being asked to host this year's event held at the Duke on Tuesday November 5 from 12.30pm.

The day will include a delicious three-course luncheon with 'horse deuves', a glass of bubbles on arrival, live music and entertainment, and a steeplechase relay. All races will be featured on large screens throughout the venue, including decks and waterfront and, of course, what race day would be complete without the fashion! There will be $1,300 in prizes to be won for Fashion in the Bay for best dressed woman and man.

Says Duke of Marlborough event wedding manager Ida Birch: "This event started around seven years ago with up to 60 people but it's got to the stage now where we devote the whole venue to the event and we're at capacity with 180 people. Many of them book their tables a year in advance – it's certainly grown in popularity and we've evolved the event with the crowds."

Ida says from 12pm, guests, from as far as Auckland, start arriving 'dressed to the nines' in dresses, fascinators and suits, before an afternoon of 'equestrian frivolity'.

"People stay the night before and until the next day. It's all very much about enjoying the bay and the views as well."

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Ida says Mel and JT's Drive show is popular with their punters and many of the companies who have booked tables, listen to Coast.

"We've never done a live broadcast so this will be fabulous. I think they're definitely going to bring more of a big festival atmosphere to little Russell which people are going to enjoy.

"Mel and JT play off each other and work really well. We're really looking forward to them."

And it's reciprocal.

"I know for a fact that the Duke of Marlborough always puts on a good time," says Mel, whose presenting career has included both radio and television. I'm looking forward to the food, the laughs, the winning a squillion dollars on the Melbourne Cup, and meeting the locals and having great chats."

Adds JT: "I'm looking forward to being back with the Northland people again. The Duke of Marlborough Hotel is an awesome place, I've always had a great night out when I've been there, and cannot wait to get back there, and for an occasion like this too, bring it on!"

While both Mel and JT haven't attended an actual event at Flemington itself, they are both keen on a bit of a flutter.

"I always partake in the office sweepstake and I have never, ever won," says Mel. "I have very little idea what I'm doing, but I'll have a flutter. I used to live in Melbourne as a child and I vividly remember that we got the day off school when it was Melbourne Cup day. The city just stops – it's incredible."

"I've never been to Flemington to see the races live, but that would be an amazing experience," says JT. "I had a friend from Whangarei who went one year and he gave a tip to his mate about the trifecta for the big race. But when he put his bet on, he accidentally got the number of one of the horses wrong. At least he thought he did! His 'mistake' was actually the correct order the horses finished in, so he won $28,000 and my mate from Whangarei missed out completely!

"I don't normally do much sports betting seeing as I'm quite terrible at it, but I do make an exception for the Melbourne Cup. One year I won $88, that year was 2007. Haven't won a cent since! But it is fun to have a flutter, whether you pick based on a name, the colours the jockey is wearing, or you've worked out how to read the form guide. Whatever your method, there is something special about yelling and willing a horse over that finish line! You feel like you played your part. I will normally do one of those Pick 6 race packs, and a stray $5 on a horse I think will win. It's been 12 years. 12 long years. But I'm hoping to fluke a victory this year!"