WEG Opens With Great Weather, Fabulous Grounds, Waiting for Crowds at Comps

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Opening Ceremony at the Kentucky Horse Park Main Stadium. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Opening Ceremony at the Kentucky Horse Park Main Stadium. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games formally opened Saturday with a display by a cast of about 200 horses and 1,500 people of America’s horse heritage before a near full house for the ceremony in a Kentucky Horse Park that has won rave reviews from riders from around the globe.

The opening ceremony scheduled for two-hours but running to almost three and viewed on the Internet around the world, launched the world championships of the seven disciplines–dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting as well as para-dressage–held once every four years and outside Europe for the first time.

The total American flavor of the ceremony beginning with a prayer from the chiefs of six Indian nations, to saddlebred horses accompanied by Bluegrass music, a tear-jerking rendition by Wynona Judd of the Kentucky state song and so many Stars and Stripes flags won top billing from the crowd and the hard-to-please media that has witnessed many of these extravaganzas.

Many riders and spectators in the Kentucky Horse Park’s new $25 million (€18.5 million) Outdoor Stadium temporarily expanded to seat 30,000 were clearly moved.

The weather cooperated with a cool, clear day after weeks of more than 90F-degree (30C) temperatures and a sense that the quality of the competitions among the 750 horses and riders from 58 nations could be the most exciting in the 20-year history of WEG.

Attention is focused on dressage, both team and individual, and jumping where the USA will be looking to add to its two team gold medals from the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and silver from the 2006 WEG.

So it was not surprising that the biggest cheer of the night came for the home team of the USA.

USA team in the opening ceremony. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
USA team in the opening ceremony. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Reining was the first championship to start, with the first of two days of team competition Saturday before crowds that varied between one-fourth to one-half the capacity of the 5,500 stadium, though the spectators made up for lack of numbers with boisterous cheering and whistling.

What it looked like to Steffen Peters within the USA team in the opening ceremony.
What it looked like to Steffen Peters within the USA team in the opening ceremony.

Competitors raved about the facility.

Stefano Massignan, the 28-year-old Italian who was leading after the first day of two days of team competition, described the indoor arena “as perfect as it can be. I’m so happy to be here in this great facility.” America’s Craig Schmersal echoed the assessment: “The facility is first-class, the footing is great, the coliseum is great and it holds a lot of people. We couldn’t ask for more.”

Among the spectators were the entire Dutch and German dressage teams as well as riders from Belgium and other nations to cheer on Anky van Grunsven, nine-time dressage World Cup champion and multiple Olympic medalist. She was competing in her first world championship as a reiner on Whizashiningwalla BB to score a personal best of 211.00 points. A check of the records indicates that Anky may be the only rider to have competed at every WEG since the Games were first created in 1990.

Anky van Grunsven on WhizashiningwallaBB © 2010 SusanJStickle.com
Anky van Grunsven on WhizashiningwallaBB © 2010 SusanJStickle.com

The main stadium in which the opening ceremony was held is the centerpiece of the competitions for the three Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing and jumping and was part of a major rebuilding of the 1,200-acre (486ha) horse park that also includes a spectacular new $45 million (€33.3 million) indoor arena.

The costs for rebuilding the Kentucky-owned horse park were raised by a bond issue that the state government expects to be repaid through more much widely used facilities over many years, borne out by a rapidly filling calendar of events.

The same could not be said for the organization which has been criticized around the world for ticket prices that are twice the price of the previous WEG at Aachen, Germany, to watch a day of Grand Prix dressage, for example, and hotel prices that are as much as four times the normal rate.

Selling start lists for the competition to spectators for $2 (€1.50). These are typically given away free to ticket holders. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Selling start lists for the competition to spectators for $2 (€1.50). These are typically given away free to ticket holders. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“The World Extortion Games” is a common expression used in the constant buzz about prices and have contributing to holding down ticket sales to not much more than half the total of 600,000 they hoped to sell, according to the latest official numbers.

As this WEG was dependent on ticket sales, sponsorship and a cut of the hotel rates, the organizing committee fell well short of the $80 million (€59.3) million it needed to meet its budget and a single sponsor, Alltech, the initial title sponsor, ended up spending about $32 million (€23.7 million) to cover WEG costs.

That amount was more than the entire commitments from all sponsors at the previous WEG and is believed to be an unprecedented outlay in equestrian sports.

Reining continues Sunday with the one-day endurance competition scheduled.

Dressage veterinary check is held Sunday and the two-day Grand Prix team competition beginning Monday, with the Grand Prix Special set for Wednesday and the freestyle on Friday night ti decide individual medals.