Kentucky’s Bid for 2018 World Games Could Make It First Repeat Host of Sport’s Flagship Event

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The 2010 World Equestrian Games Opening Ceremony at the Kentucky Horse Park. © 2010 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
The 2010 World Equestrian Games Opening Ceremony at the Kentucky Horse Park. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The bid by Kentucky to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games is expected to give Lexington the edge over Wellington, Florida and Bromont, Canada, the only other prospective hosts of the flagship event of international horse sports, and success would make it the first city to repeat for the global championships held once every four years.

Lexington, host of the WEG in 2010 and the home of Alltech that was title sponsor then and of the 2014 event in Normandy, France, emerged as the favorite after bidding was reopened by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) for the spectacular of the seven international disciplines of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting as well as para dressage.

The two American bids need to be delivered to the U.S. Equestrian Federation on Tuesday, Nov. 5 for review as the FEI accept applications only from national federations.

The USEF is expected to forward applications from both Lexington and Wellington in time for the FEI deadline of Nov. 15. Bromont/Montreal also needs to get its bid in to the FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland by the same date.

As of the beginning of November, the 1976 Olympic equestrian event site had not been able to secure the government financial support that torpedoed its efforts in the first round and the prospects, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, were not good.

“Due to the current fiscal environment, the government of Canada is not in a position to support the hosting of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games,” said Pierre Manoni, a spokesman for the department of Canadian Heritage.

The FEI will announce the official host city candidates on Dec. 2.

The FEI faces a situation considered unthinkable only eight years ago when Lexington was selected as the host of WEG 2010, the first time for the event to be held outside Europe. Lexington beat out Normandy which was awarded the event the next time around.

When expressions of interest to host the 2018 WEG were first sought, eight cities initially expressed interest.

Prospective candidates in Australia, Russia and Sweden quickly dropped out. Morocco later pulled out on the death of a member of the royal family who was an active supporter of horse sports, Wellington because of political opposition from the local government, Hungary to throw its weight behind Austria then Austria didn’t follow through on its application for Vienna.

Bromont/Montreal was the last bid, but it didn’t have the money.

So it’s down to Lexington or Wellington in the United States or Bromont/Montreal as the three North American bidders for the conglomeration of world championships that was held first in Stockholm in 1990, then the Hague, Netherlands in 1994, Rome in 1998, Jerez, Spain in 2002, Aachen, Germany in 2006, Lexington in 2010 and Normandy in 2014.

The process for 2018 is two years behind schedule, and that favors Lexington.

About $85 million (€62.5 million) was spent rebuilding the Kentucky Horse Park to prepare it for the 2010 Games. The lessons learned from organizational missteps that led to losses of millions of dollars also is considered a plus.

Alltech, the title sponsor in 2010 and of next year’s Normandy championships, said in a statement to dressage-news.com: “With our corporate headquarters based in Kentucky, we are certainly excited about the possibility of the 2018 bid coming back to Lexington. However, it is the responsibility of the local governmental authorities to put in any bid for the Games. Alltech will be supportive, but it is not our position to encourage any bid for the 2018 Games.”

There also is speculation that USEF Chief Executive Officer, John Long, who was directly involved in the 2010 WEG and will step down in June from the federation that is based in Lexington could head up a 2018 WEG organizing group.

Kerri Richardson, spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, was quoted by the Lexington Herald-Leader as saying his office “continues to discuss the possibility of hosting the World Equestrian Games in 2018 with various state and local officials. The tremendous success of the 2010 WEG and our belief that the Kentucky Horse Park is the finest equestrian facility in the world make Kentucky a strong contender.”

Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The revived bid by Wellington, as with Lexington made at the request of the FEI, came at an apparent calming in the political turmoil of the South Florida city. The local government next week is expected to take the final step to end its opposition to year-round use of the Global Dressage Festival grounds that are part of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

PBIEC has more than 30 outdoor competition and warmup arenas with Olympic quality footing, several hundred permanent horse stalls and a covered arena capable of being turned into an indoor facility with spectator seating.

Mark Bellissimo, chief executive of Equestrian Sport Productions that operates PBIEC, said that dressage and jumping would be held at their respective venues while reining and vaulting would be in the covered arena at the Global Dressage Festival grounds. Mark Phillips, the British eventing course designer who also led the U.S. event team for many years, was brought in to map out a course using nearby golf courses and local bridle paths that could also be used for driving and endurance.

“We have, by far, the largest equestrian venue and facility,” he told a meeting of the local government council. “We are one of the few spots in the world where our infrastructure supports an annual business that has almost as much direct impact on the community as the WEG itself.”

Dozens of polo fields, many within walking distance of the show grounds, could be used for auto parking, more than 100 hotels are within about 30 minutes of Wellington, as are beaches. Miami is an hour south while Disney World and other theme parks in Orlando are about 2 1/2 hours north.

Wellington wants to hold WEG in October, the tail end of the hurricane season in Florida that the National Hurricane Center reports is hit by more storms than any other U.S. state. Hurricane season reaches its height from August to October. As of the end of September this year, the center reported, 10 named storms was near the average of 9.1 per season “but the two hurricanes to date is well below the average of 4.7.”

The average high and low temperatures in September and October are about 87F and 73F (30.5C-23C).