MC111116NADHORSES2.JPG: SIGN OF TIMES: For the first time, people could not bring their own alcohol to the Dargaville races. Photo/Michael Cunningham.
The only cloud hanging over the Dargaville races was the kind that offered shelter from the sun on a warm spring day - and then part of the track collapsed.
The fun, friendly Dargaville Racing Club meeting was called off after Race Three yesterday when a soft patch surfaced in what had earlier looked like a perfect track.
The meeting got off to a flying start before the whole event was scratched, with club president Tim Antonio citing "perfect conditions" before the first race at 12.15pm.
"We always have a wonderful day here at Dargaville and this is shaping up to be another one," Mr Antonio said.
"The track is absolutely perfect today, but we've had a few more horses scratched than we'd like."
However, it was all over by 2pm when the call was made to abandon the race day.
The Fashion in the Field event still got over the line later in the afternoon, while the famed hospitality tents and Foxy's Bar in the old tote shed and The Cowshed Bar in the old cowshed continued to do a roaring trade.
Around 4pm, a club spokeswoman said: "The place is beginning to empty out now".
The success of the spring picnic races, it's only meeting this year, appeared jinxed since the club's bring-your-own alcohol licence application was turned down last week, putting paid to the car-boot bars for which the event is well known.
"It's been a chapter of events this week," the disappointed spokeswoman said.
Despite limitations on where race-goers could drink, spirits were high.
There were fewer Sevens rugby spectator-style costumed teams and fewer corporate tents than at most Dargaville meets but about 2000 people still turned up to sit on the benches, on plastic chairs in tents or blankets on the grass at the club with no grandstand.
Busloads of people had come from Auckland and around Northland and many others, including Northland MP and NZ First leader Winston Peters, who were chauffeured in and out by designated drivers.
High-fliers who came in by helicopter included Sir Peter Vela, the president of New Zealand Bloodstock.
Also the principal of Pencarrow Stud, Sir Peter had five horses racing at Dargaville yesterday, with three trainers in the mix. None of his horses had a run as they were all in later races.
Mr Peters said that while yesterday's race result was disappointing, the problem with the track could be identified and fixed without too much difficulty.
The matter of the liquor licence was a more serious issue as it could put the club's future at risk, he said.
Mr Peters described the liquor laws as "bureaucracy gone mad", with the potential to destroy the traditions and social events of provincial communities.
The Dargaville races were special for their atmosphere and tradition, he said.
"It's New Zealand's most-northern race meeting. It's seriously important that it's successful."