The rain flowed as freely as the champagne at the Boxing Day races at Ellerslie Racecourse, but the crowds weren't deterred by the thought of a soggy fascinator.

Thousands turned up to the event, which has been an institution on Auckland's social calender for over 150 years, and is as much - or more - about the fashion than the horses.

"Maybe I'll see a horse, maybe I won't," said Christchurch woman Deborah Truesdale, who looked stunning in an extravagant Trelise Cooper jacket "with a bit of extra tszujing" and pants by Christchurch designer Gillian Melhop.

Many turned up to take part in the coveted Fashion in the Fields competition, with a mouth-watering prize pool prompting some truly amazing outfits.


Head judge Claire Hahn, who won the event in 2006, said it was like winning a "mini Lotto", with prizes including a trip to Honolulu, an LCD television, and a new wardrobe,.

"I won a brand new Mercedes and a whole host of other prizes and it really is an absolute joy."

She said people's outfits got better every year.

"Today we've seen a lot of peplums, a lot of lace and pretty prints. But we're definitely returning to an old-school art of millinery so less feathered facsinators and more structure and architecture which is really exciting for the art of millinery."

Also on the judging panel was Romanian tennis star Sorana Cirstea, ranked 27th in the world, who was here for next week's ASB Classic.

"It was fun judging because I've never done it and it's such a relaxing process because no-one's watching and no-one's judging - you are the one doing it so it was fun," she said.

Cirstea, recognised as one of the most beautiful women in sports by MSN, was impressed by what she saw.

"It's amazing because it's something different and everyone's really putting a lot of effort into dressing up and dressing according to the event. I think it's great and I think it's an amazing tradition and I'm very honoured to be a part of it."

New Zealand Herald marketing executive Rachel Wilkins, who is running the Viva Powder Room, said there were some outstanding outfits at the track.

"A lot of people get really glammed up today, it's their one big chance for the year to just go a little bit crazy with their fashion," she said.

The crowd didn't seem to mind the rain much, and it was more than welcome by Kiwi horse the Hombre, which won the 1200m Hallmark Stud Newmarket Handicap.

"It's unfortunate for the club for it to be wet like it is but for our horse it was helpful," said trainer John Bary said.

"It played into our hands because he's a front-running horse so once he got in front the horses from the back struggled to overtake it in the wet."

Bary didn't even know what the prize money was, but he said it didn't matter.

"It's all about the glory."

For most of the punters Boxing Day was the only time of year they gambled, so their betting tactics were often unscientific, if creative.

"I chose based on the jockeys' outfits and the horses' names," said Paul Hay. "There was one called Sweet Suitor, which I thought I'd go for 'cause he was wearing the same colour as me.

"It did say under the thing that he didn't really have a chance but I thought you've got to bet for the underdog."

Organisers were unable to say last night how many race-goers had turned out or how much they had bet on the day.