The second ever $1 million The Gong race day started quietly when the gates opened at Kembla Grange Racecourse on Saturday morning, but by noon the car park was near full and racegoers were lining up to get in.
As numbers began to swell, it was a little easier to maintain social distancing restrictions at the track than on Melbourne Cup Day.
At the 11th hour, Illawarra Turf Club had got word the one person per four square metre rule for venues had been relaxed to one person per two square metres.
Erin Smith was among the first to arrive and enjoyed the extra space after dressing up for the occasion.
A two-time Melbourne Cup Day Fashions on the Field winner at Kembla Grange, Ms Smith said she was excited about The Gong after skipping the Cup earlier this month.
"I first started coming to Kembla Grange to watch the race horses and then start participating in Fashions on the Field and the entertainment," she said.
"I like the vibe - it feels like spring and it's fun."
Jennifer Tobin was trackside at Kembla Grange on Saturday and said she enjoyed it so much she plans to make it an annual event.
"My friend Estelle Ziegelaar is a member and invited me along as a guest and we had a fabulous time last year," she said.
"Everything was so well organised and it's fantastic to have a $1 million race down here.
"COVID has restricted the amount of people who can come but today is still a great day."
Illawarra Turf Club racing manager Michael Craig said some additional areas had been added to accommodate everyone at a safe distance on Saturday.
They included The Rose Garden, which is normally reserved for horse owners, and The Little Gong located halfway up the straight, which proved so popular it is likely to be continued at future meets.
"It had heaps of bookings," Mr Craig said.
"People really like it and it certainly has potential."
Mr Craig said The Gong was the biggest event of the year at Kembla Grange and will only grow in reputation and stature.
And despite the restrictions - which meant racegoers had to be seated - "the quality of the actual meeting itself was way up on last year", he said.
"We have learned things from today that we can use in the future."
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