Sarah Milliren of Sapula, Okla., finished the Alltech National Horse Show on Sunday with a commanding win in the ASPCA Maclay Championship, ending a week of competition that organizers say is sure to return to the Kentucky Horse Park next year.
The equitation competition was intense for the 200 riders, all younger than 18 and hailing from around the country. It was so intense, in fact, that the top three riders had to switch horses for a final jump-off over a complicated course.
The Maclay is judged not only on the riders' forms and techniques, but their ability to create smooth rides over complicated jump combinations.
When told her name would be inscribed on the Maclay Championship award next to such greats as George Morris and William Steinkraus, Milliren, 16, said, "I can't believe that's going to happen. I'm so happy."
As for the weeklong show, organizer Mason Phelps called it "a home run."
He said the nightly parties helped return some of the glamour to the show, which was held for many years at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Phelps said the partnership between Alltech, the Nicholasville-based feed company, and the National Horse Show went so well that it will almost certainly return next year. Catherine Keogh, Alltech's global marketing director, said the two parties are in final negotiations for next year.
"Alltech is dedicated to animals achieving peak performance," said Alltech President Pearse Lyons, who has called this show a legacy event to Alltech's sponsorship of the 2010 World Equestrian Games. "This event showcased just that. I salute each of the competitors, and we hope everyone will join us again next year."
Riders and trainers praised the running of the event, but organizers want to work on attracting more spectators. The stands were fairly sparsely filled throughout the week, with the exception of the big grand prix classes held at night.
"We have to talk about the entertainment aspect of it," Phelps said.
The show held parties every night of the show; Phelps said the one on Saturday night was attended by Bruce Springsteen, whose daughter, Jessica, placed third in the $250,000 Grand Prix earlier in the evening.
The weekend also held some major competition for spectators, including the Breeders' Cup in Louisville and a University of Kentucky home football game.
One change for next year will almost certainly be the inclusion of the Saddlebred breed, which also used to show at Madison Square Garden.
"That will bring more people," said Alston Kerr, chairwoman of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.
Still, several vendors who set up booths in the arena said they had a good week.
Susan English, the manager of Embry's, said business had been comparable to the World Equestrian Games, which went on twice as long and had many more spectators.
"We've met a lot of nice people from out of town who are really excited about being here," English said.
Joey Darby of Southern Pines, N.C., brought his equine antiques business. He is also a horse show judge.
"This is just the beginning of a very big deal," he said. "This will turn out to be something that everyone who shows horses will look forward to at the end of the year."
Some Lexington residents made it out to the horse park for the novelty of watching the horses and riders.
"I think this is phenomenal," Lexingtonian Jane Justice said. "We need to get everyone involved here."
Reach Linda B. Blackford at (859) 231-1359 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1359.