Flat out on the beach: Mackay race day is a must-see
IT CAPTURES the very essence of Queensland: a race day where sand replaces turf and the track itself is the beach at low tide, an expansive 200m-wide strip.
The Mackay Harbour Beach Race Day - Queensland's coastal answer to the famous Birdsville Races - should be on everyone's "must see" list,
It's a rare find anywhere on the planet. You'd have to either travel to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, or Ireland's Laytown beach to find anything else like it.
Some of the racehorses are unique too. One year, a draft horse named "Free Willy" stood out as the crowd favourite.
Standing all of "15hh nothing" (around 5ft in human terms), he's best described by his owner/trainer Carla Adams as "black and white, and fat like a whale".
"I knew he had no hope of winning," says Carla, who also rode Free Willy in the race day's "Any other breed" category.
"But boy he looked magnificent galloping along the beach. Some of the other jockeys came up to me at the end and said 'Geez, that horse has got a bit of speed - he's only a little fella, but I was worried you were going to beat me for a while there'."
"What we do often see are dolphins, and (one year) we had a whale the day before the race, but it didn't turn up on the day, which was a bit of a bummer. Maybe this year…"
Carla tells a different story. Arriving early with other competitors, she, in fact, saw a whale on race day.
"It was incredible," she says. "We saw a whale breaching directly in front of the grandstand, about 200m from the shore. But because it was early, the crowds weren't there to see it."
Lesson of the story: front up early.
Organisers said the 2015 event in August would be bigger and better than ever, as Mackay Airport again threw its support behind the festival.
Mr Pope said he had grand plans for the future.
"We're going to have a local input this year where we will invite cowboys from the district to enter their stock horses," he said.
"We see 20,000 people attending this event and people coming from all over the world."
The festival will again include a golf challenge, sportsman's dinner and cocktail event leading into the race day.
The August 8 race day itself, over which a series of 350m sprints are run according to three categories of horses ("Thoroughbreds", "Quarter Horses" and "Any other breed"), is the highlight of a four-day Mackay Airport Beach Horse Racing Festival from August 6-9.
"A lot of country people come for a great day out," Mr Pope said. "They bring stock horses and show horses - some of them are very serious, but it's very social too.
The dress code? "Anything goes" - from thongs and board shorts to suits and cocktail dresses.
Mick says the event is also earning its stripes as a key tourist attraction.
"I'm already getting people who are booking their holidays from Perth to make sure that it fits in with date of the beach races.
"It's the kind of event that can be renowned worldwide, not just in Australia: Mackay. Go there for the beach races. Be there in August."
For more information, including ticket options which range from "general admission" to the exclusive, fully catered "Quarter Deck Marquee", visit: www.mackaybeachhorseracing.com.au