RACING season arrives in Darwin with a raucous roar. You can smell anticipation in the musky tropical air. It's a wild crowd: women in big hats and tiny dresses, rowdy gents guzzling beer by the gallon, and packs of tikes, oohing and aahing over the contestants. Suddenly, one toddler points to the centre course. It's nearly starting time. All at once, the mob surges forward with mad, uncontrollable excitement. Crab racing has returned to Darwin. After months of relentless rain, residents of the capital of Australia's Northern Territory give a wild welcome to the end of the Wet, in May. Festivities include the World Barefoot Mud Crab Tying Championships on July 31. But nothing, neither crab wrestling nor jumping crocodiles, not even the August races in boats made entirely of beer cans, can quite compare with Darwin's kookie crab races. Showtime arrives just after sunset in the lobby of the Atrium Hotel. Announcer Scott Day has shed the hideous floral shirt worn during his daytime duties as hotel marketing manager. Decked out in white lab coat topped with a blinding pink sports cap, he stirs the crowd into a pre-crab frenzy, helped by happy hour prices. Betting forms circulate through the crowd. The names - Sweet Lips, Lemon White, Cider Spider - offer no easy picks. Nobody bothers clawing through tip sheets. 'Just write down any old number,' suggests one veteran punter. Day is like an auctioneer, joking and jawing at a high-octane pitch. 'Crank it up,' he shouts, and the music moves to a climax. Then, Day turns a bucket upside-down in the centre of a stage marked with a huge circle. Out tumble the tiny, twitching field - eight crabs the size of dollar coins - each with a small number painted on its shell. 'The rules are simple,' Day screams. 'The first crab to crawl outside of the circle line is the winner.' The mood grows ugly during the third race, the money race. The pot is HK$1,000, but it carries over each week if no one picks the first six crabs, in order of finish. One woman on hand won a record $6,500 last year. Nobody claims this evening's crab pot, and the complaints grow louder. The main objections, all proven justifiable to this reporter, were that the crabs were different sizes, and several were missing legs, and ran in circles. And all the races used the same crabs, only with different names. Confronted with a scandal of crab-like proportions, co-sponsor Triple R Travel merely touted its tours. These include visits to the surrounding parks, among the finest and most famous in Australia, including Litchfield, Katherine Gorge and Kakadu. Most popular, according to Triple R's Ron Simpson, are visits to the 'jumping crocodiles.' Crocodiles still reign supreme. The lush waterways around Darwin are home for some of the world's largest varieties. Specimens weighing 325 kilos can be seen at Crocodylus Park, and Darwin's new museum displays the remains of Sweetheart, a 5.1-metre croc who had been munching local boats. Kakadu Park boasts what is the world's only hotel shaped like an enormous crocodile. Simpson has been sponsoring crab races for two years, but says he would gladly switch to croc-jumping contests - if only he could smooth out all the snags. Most notably, the contestants' habit of eating his potential customers. Still, the crab races have proven a good boost to business for both Triple R and the Atrium, particularly when paired with bikini revues. 'It's just something silly we do to make life a little more fun in Darwin,' says Day. As crab racing enthusiasts shuffle past, he offers this bit of advice with a wink: 'Always check the legs, mate.'