A day at the races was really duck soup when more than 2,300 bright yellow rubber quackers splashed into the Saugatuck River on Saturday for the annual Great Duck Race .

The Westport Sunrise Rotary Club's fundraiser proceeded swimmingly toward its goal of raising thousands of dollars for 17 local charities.

Ducks were sponsored at $20 each, and Westporter John Cooper's duckie paddled, after a fashion, to first place and a $5,000 Visa gift card prize. Second place was won by the duck chosen by Tom Feeley of Westport, who was presented a $1,000 Visa gift card.

"Today is about giving back to our community," said Frankie Smith of Westport, treasurer for the Sunrise Rotary, "having a lot of fun with the family and, in general, enjoying the day."

A portion of Parker-Harding Plaza overlooking the Saugatuck River was closed off for the event, which drew several thousand people for an afternoon of summer fun in advance of the big race. Bands performed music, crafts and games were offered, and then the throng gathered at riverside for the 3 p.m. start of the race.

"I think it's wonderful for the kids," said Leanne Holster of Westport. "We've been waiting for an event like this, and they're hard to come by."

"This is the third time we've come," said Anthony Catalano of Westport, who was among those cheering for their ducks in the competition. "It's a good way for the kids to come out and have a good time."

He also said it was impressive to see so many people turn out in support of local charities, "especially with the economy the way it is."

The flotilla of rubber ducks, joined by at least one stray tennis ball, were dumped en masse into the river and let loose to float about 100 yards into a tapered finish-line area, where judges designated the winners in order of arrival.

"It's always a great event," said Dick Silveria, who spends his summers in Westport and also lives in South Carolina.

"We do a fantastic, fantastic job," Smith said, commending her club as a whole. "I am so proud of being a Rotatarian, I can't tell you."