The 2011 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event will offer fans a new experience: the opportunity to tailgate on cross-country day.
Spectators will be able to reserve tailgating spaces along the course. Standard locations are $275, with premium spots priced at $325, according to the event's Web site. "Couture picnic" packages are available from Lundy's for an extra fee. A reservation will cover a passenger vehicle and general admission for up to eight people, with 138 spaces available along the eastern leg of the course.
Equestrian Events Inc., which puts on the annual top-level competition in April, hopes to build on community interest created by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, held this fall at the Kentucky Horse Park. They also hope to draw in more non-traditional fans to the equine event.
Tailgating — setting up a portable party at sporting events — has grown in popularity at Keeneland and at University of Kentucky football games, and the High Hope Steeplechase has done it for years, so why not at other horse sports?
"We really wanted to test the waters with this," said Lisa Ball, Equestrian Event Inc. board president. "I think it's going to be very positive. We've already seen a lot of interest."
On Wednesday, tailgating tickets were made available on the Rolex Kentucky Web site and by Saturday, 13 spots had been reserved, she said.
"We have a great location to do it, towards the far end of the course, easily accessible for cars, and it doesn't get into the mix of people walking," Ball said.
Cross-country competition, one of the three phases of eventing, is held on Saturday and regularly draws tens of thousands of spectators to watch horses and riders take on dramatic jumps and water obstacles.
Now fans will be able to park along the course, put up a tent and even fire up a gas grill.
But they will have to be willing to get there early — before the first horse starts on the course — and stay late — until the last one finishes.
That isn't expected to be a problem, Ball said. "The people who come out for eventing on cross-country day are going to stay the whole day anyway," she said.
For more information, go to RK3DE.org.