Alltech and the National Horse Show plan to bring back the glamour of black-tie horse shows and the glitz of charity galas when the event moves to the Kentucky Horse Park in November.
There were smiles all around at a news conference Wednesday celebrating the marriage of the oldest indoor horse show in America and the newest big-time sponsor in the equestrian game.
Together, they will bring the Alltech National Horse Show to Lexington Nov. 2-6.
Pearse Lyons, founder and head of Nicholasville-based animal nutrition giant Alltech, said he expects the company's sponsorship to be "an ongoing event. We don't do one-offs," he said. "I'd be very surprised if in 10 years' time, we aren't doing the same thing."
Lyons would not put an exact dollar figure on his sponsorship deal with the National Horse Show but said coyly, "Not quite as much as we put into the World Equestrian Games." Alltech famously signed on for $10 million as title sponsor of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games but ended up pouring closer to $30 million into the Games to leverage that sponsorship.
Lyons hinted he's prepared to make a similar commitment to the National Horse Show.
"We would like to get behind this in all aspects," Lyons said. He said three more sponsors already have signed on and many more have approached them.
Lyons said he expects sponsorships to "go north of $1 million" and that he plans a sponsorship meeting in the next 10 days.
"This is going to elevate the Kentucky Horse Park and equestrian sports," Lyons said. "It will be our aim to make this something truly special."
Alltech already had announced a Legacy Games of equine competitions to build on last year's World Equestrian Games, but those now will become the National Horse Show.
"For this year, our focus is on supporting the Alltech National Horse Show in its debut in Lexington and making that a wild success," said Alltech spokeswoman Susanna Elliott.
John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, said the coming of the National Horse Show proves the value of both Alltech's and Kentucky's investments in the World Equestrian Games.
"If there dare be any skeptics left ... let them come to the Alltech Arena in November," Nicholson said.
"There's no word that resonates more perfectly, more appropriately than legacy," said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. He said Lyons and his wife, Deirdre, deserve thanks and appreciation for the efforts.
And the Lyonses want to restore the social luster of the event once universally known as "The National." For decades, the event was the culmination of a year's effort for many riders, who competed at a circuit of top shows to qualify for a spot at the National.
"When I was much younger, and the show was in its heyday in New York, for everyone in the hunter/jumper division the National was the pot at the end of the rainbow," said Hugh Kincannon, who now will manage the 128th edition in Lexington. "It was a reward just to qualify for the National Horse Show. ... Even if you didn't qualify, you'd still go because you'd want to see the National Horse Show, and the social events. It was almost like a convention week."
Pearse Lyons said Alltech is planning to host a couple of black-tie charity events in conjunction with the show, including one to benefit the Kentucky Equine Humane Center.
"We're going to have the top of the top," Lyons said. "Eat your heart out New York; we ain't going back."
For 118 years, the National Horse Show was in Madison Square Garden in New York City but has been a bit of a nomad in the past decade. Now, show organizers said, they have found a permanent home in the Alltech Arena at the Horse Park.
Mason Phelps, president of the National Horse Show, said half of the money from ticketed events will benefit charities, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which sponsors the most prestigious trophy for young riders, the Alfred B. Maclay Finals for equitation, which judges the rider's form and control.
Altogether, there will be about $600,000 in prize money spread over hunters, jumpers and the Maclay, making it one of the richest indoor equestrian competitions in the United States.
And it will be one of the the biggest indoor shows at the Horse Park, at least for now. About 300 horses will compete in various hunter/jumper divisions, culminating with the $250,000 Alltech National Horse Show Grand Prix on Saturday night. Sunday will have about 200 of the best riders 18 and younger going for the Maclay trophy, a huge silver plate adorned with the names of some of the best riders ever to grace a saddle.
"It's new, bigger and better than we've ever done before," Phelps said.