On the last weekend in April, thousands of people stream to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event.
By next year, they’ll have to get used to calling it just the Kentucky Three Day Event; officials announced Wednesday that Rolex is dropping its 36-year title sponsorship.
“It will be a change, no question,” said Lee Carter, executive director of Equestrian Events Inc., which has put on the only four-star three-day event at the Kentucky Horse Park since it began in 1978. “Change is not always pleasant, but at the same time they’ve been a great partner and will continue to be one.”
Rolex will continue to be the “official timepiece” of the event through 2021. In addition, Rolex has a separate contract with the Kentucky Horse Park as the title sponsor of the stadium there through 2020. Rolex also will continue to sponsor the $350,000 Grand Slam of Eventing, awarded to the rider who wins the Kentucky Three Day Event and two English events, Burghley and Badminton, in the same year. The prize was most recently won in 2016 by German rider Michael Jung.
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Carter declined to say how much money Rolex provided as the title sponsor, and Rolex officials were not immediately available for comment.
In 2014, tax documents show that EEI took in almost $1.3 million in “gifts, grants, and contributions.”
Carter said the event itself will continue unchanged, and said EEI has worked to build a sustainable organization that can survive financial changes. The group is open to a new title sponsor, he said. This year, the competition was officially known as the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event presented by Land Rover.
Sporting sponsorships mean big money and big competition.
The Rolex Stadium agreement is worth $1.2 million over 10 years. But that sponsorship was apparently a factor in Kentucky’s failed bid for the 2018 World Equestrian Games, because rival watchmaker Longines is the top sponsor for the Federation Equestre Internationale, the international ruling body for equestrian sport, which puts on the World Equestrian Games. The Longines deal was reported to be as much as $130 million over 10 years.
Kentucky hosted the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Horse Park and has applied to host the 2022 games.
The Kentucky Three Day Event attracts the world’s top riders and has been an Olympic test event. It features three days of competition. The first day is dressage, sometimes known as equestrian ballet; the second is cross country, which features a race over complicated fence combinations; the third is stadium jumping, where horse and rider must negotiate a course of high fences without knocking any down.
Next year’s event will be held April 26 to 29. EEI unveiled a new website and logo Wednesday.
It’s not clear whether Kentucky will remain the only four-star event in the United States. Practical Horseman Magazine reported that the U.S. Equestrian Federation was considering a fall four-star event in 2019, with Fair Hill, Md., and Great Meadow, Va., competing to host the event.
The Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, N.C., is hosting the 2018 World Equestrian Games, so it is building what will be a world-class venue for three-day eventing.
Tandy Patrick, chairwoman of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, said the commission wasn’t involved in any discussions with EEI and Rolex. EEI rents the Kentucky Horse Park for the three-day event.
“We’ll do anything and everything we can to make sure the quality of the event remains as high as ever,” Patrick said.