Lexington Interested in Rerun, Wellington Nearly Complete, Britain Wants Costs Cut in Bidding for 2018 World Games

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Kentucky Horse Park's Outdoor Stadium, centerpiece of the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
Kentucky Horse Park’s Outdoor Stadium, centerpiece of the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Kentucky wants a re-run, Wellington says most of what’s needed is already built while Great Britain hasn’t decided on show grounds but wants costs cut in thinking about competing against Canada’s Bromont bid to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

Britain and the two American cities had varying reactions in support of what the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) declared as their “expressions of interest” in a second round of a search for a city to host the WEG, the showcase of international horse sports held once every four years.

The second round of bidding was launched by the FEI when Bromont stood alone as a candidate to host the 2018 WEG. Rabat, Morocco; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria and Wellington, Florida had dropped out.

The FEI then said it couldn’t accept Bromont’s bid because organizers were unable to “provide the full public sector financial support” it required.

The FEI reopened the bidding process by seeking “expressions of interest” that it needed to go to the next step of receiving completed questionnaires by Nov. 15 so it can decide on the candidate cities by Dec. 2.

Less than a year remains to the 2014 Games in Normandy, France.

As the host of the 2010 world championships of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting as well as para dressage, Lexington rebuilt the Kentucky Horse Park and associated infrastructure at a cost of more than $100 million (€74 million).

Pearse Lyons, president of Alltech that was the title sponsor of both the 2010 and 2014 WEG, said: “We would be delighted to see Kentucky bid once again for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.

“The infrastructure is already in place, and our city and state now have experience when it comes to the management of a major 16-day international sporting event.”

The horse park consisting of a major outdoor stadium, a new indoor arena named for Alltech and a long-established eventing cross country course was rated world class.

Operations, however, suffered financial problems despite public support of $70 million (€51.6 million) and impacted services at WEG and hotel rates and ticket prices were castigated as extortionate.

Bailouts were made by Alltech and other sponsors, plus $2 million from the breeding and racing operation owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai whose junior wife is Princess Haya, FEI president. That amount was about equal to the license fee paid for the rights to host the Games.

John Nicholson, the Horse Park executive director, said no decision had been made on whether to make a bid for 2018.

Nevertheless, he said, “I consider it a real compliment to Lexington, the commonwealth and the Kentucky Horse Park that there seems to be support for another World Games here in 2018. There are a lot of potential partners and stakeholders that need to be part of the discussion of whether to bid.”

One of Hickstead's highlights--Totilas and Edward Gal in 2009. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
One of Hickstead’s highlights–Totilas and Edward Gal in 2009. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said the city would support a bid as investment in the horse park means that “hosting the Games again makes good business sense.

“It’s good for the sport; it’s good for the economy.”

Since the WEG was created with the first event in Stockholm in 1990, no city has repeated as host. Lexington was the first host outside of Western Europe.

Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions that operates the privately-owned Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington that hosts 12 weeks of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Global Dressage Festivl, said the company was serious about moving ahead with the bid.

“We’re very lucky in that we don’t need a huge amount of financial support,” he said.

A testy relationship between the government of the Village of Wellington and ESP that nixed proposals for a condominium hotel and a boutique retail mall and severely restricted use of new multimillion dollar dressage grounds led to ESP dropping its bid for the WEG in the first round.

A thawing of relations this year is likely to result in year round use of the dressage facility and a serious WEG bid could revive plans for the hotel and retail center.

However, average temperatures in Palm Beach in August, September and October, the likeliest dates of a WEG, are a daily high of about 87F (30C) and a low of 75F (24C) with high humidity.

The British Equestrian Federation, still basking in the huge success of last summer’s Olympics, pointed out an expression of interest “carries no liability in terms of whether a formal bid is or is not submitted next year.”

The BEF said it has “carried out a high level scoping exercise” in sounding out the national Department for Culture, Media and Sport and UK Sport.

“No commitments have been requested from DCMS or UK Sport,” BEF said in a statement, “but all are agreed that we should look further at whether it is practical to host a WEG in the UK in 2018.

“The BEF have confirmed to the FEI that a formal bid may depend on the BEF and FEI being able to agree changes to the WEG format that reduce the cost of hosting the Games. At this stage the BEF is not in a position to discuss potential venues, budgets or funding streams; this is an expression of interest and at this stage in the process such speculation would be of little benefit.”

With Windsor Castle in the background, Adelinde Cornelissen riding Parzival at the 2009 European Championships. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
With Windsor Castle in the background, Adelinde Cornelissen riding Parzival at the 2009 European Championships. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The most likely venues are Hickstead and Windsor, both of which have hosted European Championships.

Hickstead hosts both dressage and jumping Nations Cups annually, has numerous hotels in the seaside vacation city of Brighton and is close to Gatwick airport while Windsor is within sprawling parklands next to historic Windsor Castle and close to Heathrow airport.