Lexington is a potential host city for 2018 World Equestrian Games

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 3, 2013 

Lexington was identified Thursday as a potential host city for the 2018 World Equestrian Games, putting the Horse Capital of the World in the running to be the first location to host the international event twice.

The Kentucky Horse Park hosted the Games in 2010.

The other U.S. city looking to land the Games in 2018 is Wellington, Fla., another sport horse competition mecca, particularly during the winter.

Great Britain and Canada have expressed interest in hosting the event, but have not identified cities. According to the Federation Equestre Internationale, an international governing agency, Canada had identified Bromont/Montreal as a host area but could not get sufficient public sector funding.

As a result, the FEI reopened the bidding process for 2018, but officials said they hoped Canada would continue with another bid.

The Games, which started in 1990, are held every four years in the middle of the Summer Olympics cycle. They will be held next year in Normandy, France. The Nicholasville-based company Alltech was the title sponsor at the Lexington games, and it signed on as a major sponsor in Normandy.

The Games feature seven events — jumping; dressage, including para-equestrian; eventing; driving; endurance; vaulting and reining.

John Long, the CEO of the United States Equestrian Federation, or USEF, which is based at the Kentucky Horse Park, said his office had made requests to get the FEI bid documents for Lexington and Wellington, a small town near Palm Beach.

Wellington decided in 2012 not to pursue the World Games bid because of disagreements over development, according to media reports. Wellington has superb facilities for show jumping and dressage, Long said, but it would have to figure out what to do about events that require more land, such as the cross-country phase of eventing and endurance riding.

"It's early days," Long said. "There are some issues. Just like the state of Kentucky, they have to figure out what those issues are as they evaluate bid documents just to see whether it's economically feasible and logistically doable."

Long said the USEF would help with both proposals as the cities decide whether they want to move forward. In the end, however, the USEF would prefer to put forward just one host city proposal.

John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, cautioned that no decision had been made to bid on the Games, a point that was echoed in a news release from Gov. Steve Beshear's office.

"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," Nicholson said. "There are a lot of potential partners and stakeholders that need to be part of the discussion of whether to bid."

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said the city would support a bid.

"Significant investments have been made at the Horse Park, so hosting the Games again makes good business sense," he said. "It's good for the sport; it's good for the economy."

Alltech president Pearse Lyons was traveling Thursday, but in a statement he said he would welcome the Games back to Lexington. Lyons said he contacted the governor about the Games in July, after the initial 2018 bidding had fallen through.

"We would be delighted to see Kentucky bid once again for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games," Lyons said. "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."

Long, who has announced he will leave the USEF in 2014, said that if the bid requirements are similar to 2010, there probably are only two places that could be ready to host the Games quickly: The Kentucky Horse Park and Aachen, Germany, which hosted in 2006.

"There's nothing to be built here; the volunteer base could be brought back quickly," he said. "There are an equal number of things we would do differently; you have the benefit of those experiences."

However, Long said that because of the great job London did with the 2012 Olympics, England would be a tough competitor, as would Wellington, which has cachet with the international horse world.

"It will be interesting to see how it plays out," he said.

Michael Stone, executive director of Equestrian Sport Productions, which runs many of Wellington's events, said they were very serious about moving ahead with the bid.

"We're very lucky in that we don't need a huge amount of financial support," because so much infrastructure is already in place, said Stone, the former secretary general of the FEI.

A study by the financial consulting firm Deloitte on behalf of the FEI found that the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington had an economic impact of $233 million, with $100 million in spectator spending, $11 million in team expenditures and $45 million for event management, sponsors, trade stands and the media.

However, the state spent $108 million on infrastructure improvements at the Horse Park and on surrounding roads.

The 2010 Games took place over 16 largely sunny days from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, and were lauded for great, Olympic-level competition with few of the transportation nightmares that many expected. Spectators praised the new facilities, along with the bucolic countryside, and visitors and residents enjoyed nightly musical performances that brought thousands of people downtown.

However, the Games were also plagued by financial woes that ended with a $1.4 million deficit despite public support of $70 million and several bailouts by high-profile supporters.

According to tax documents filed by the World Games Foundation after the event, Lyons gave $3 million in cash, on top of his $10 million sponsorship. With goods and services, Lyons estimated he put out $32 million in all. The Games also received $2 million from Darley, the Thoroughbred breeding and racing operation owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. His junior wife, Princess Haya, is president of the FEI, as she was in 2010.

Although the Kentucky Horse Park got international publicity for its new indoor arena, outdoor stadium and already famous Olympic-level cross-country course, its bottom line suffered because it was closed to regular visitors for much of the summer of 2010.

The park went into deficit, and legislators gave it $3.5 million, a sum proposed by Beshear. Nicholson said the park is financially stable now, thanks in part to increased events following the Games.

Nicholson said the 2010 Games were a huge success, which he is sure would be surpassed in 2018. "We certainly learned a great deal," he said.

Reporter Beth Musgrave contributed to this article. Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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