Some of the biggest winners and losers to come out of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won't be riding horses.
High on the list are Mayor Jim Newberry, Vice Mayor Jim Gray and Gov. Steve Beshear. Whether each ends up as a winner or loser could depend a lot on how well the Games go.
The 16-day competition at the Kentucky Horse Park comes at a tricky time for Gray, who is challenging Newberry for re-election. The election is Nov. 2, only 44 days from now and 23 days after the Games end.
Gray has always had an uphill battle to unseat Newberry, a competent if not always inspiring mayor. Newberry isn't nearly as vulnerable as Teresa Isaac was four years ago when he ousted her.
Ordinarily, Gray and Newberry would be in full campaign mode by now, even though both tend to come off as petulant and whiney when they attack each other. The contest so far has been a low-key affair, with Gray having neighborhood meetings and Newberry cutting ribbons.
As the Games draw near, both candidates seem restrained. After all, it isn't polite to fight in front of company, and Lexingtonians are nothing if not polite.
Expect to see a lot of Newberry at the Games and the related downtown festivities. If all goes well, he can trumpet them as the capstone of four years of progress. But if things go badly, the Games could blow up in Newberry's face.
What could go wrong? Lots. Having covered two Olympics and many other big events, I have observed that the secret to success is smooth execution of basic logistics. The devil is always in the details.
Traffic, parking, shuttles and other conveniences for spectators, participants and the media will shape perceptions of the Games. If people are able to get in, out and about the Horse Park and the downtown entertainment venues with relative ease, and at a price they consider fair, it will go a long way toward creating good buzz about the Games.
It doesn't help that the biggest logistical test will come the first night, when tens of thousands of people, most of whom have paid big money for tickets, converge on the Horse Park for opening ceremonies. LexTran and hotel shuttles should ease congestion if they run smoothly, but this is a city of drivers who freak out at the slightest traffic jam.
If all goes well, great. If not, the problems had better be fixed quickly or there will be hell to pay. This is especially true as it relates to visiting journalists. If they hear spectators complaining, and if bungled logistics make it hard for them to do their jobs, they won't hesitate to tell the world about it.
While Newberry has the most to gain or lose politically from the Games, the governor also has a lot at stake. Beshear has been a big booster, as has his wife, Jane, an avid horsewoman.
Responding to concerns that spectators would have to walk a half-mile or more from their $20 parking spaces at Spy Coast Farm to the Horse Park venues, the governor's office last week took the lead in organizing a free shuttle service to be operated by a church group.
Beshear has often stepped up to help the Games. Perhaps the most notable example was in January 2008 when he shifted nearly $30 million in state appropriations to fund the Horse Park's outdoor stadium and other Games-related improvements that had languished in budget limbo for a year.
That money originally was intended for state park projects throughout Kentucky, but "Kentucky's reputation is on the line" with the Games' success, Beshear said. About half of that money was to have gone for improvements at Dale Hollow State Park, which is in Senate President David Williams' district.
Williams was not amused. Since then, he has become the Republicans' most promising candidate for governor next year, when Beshear, a Democrat, faces re-election.
Don't be surprised to hear Williams bring up the subject if the Games go badly — or even if they go well. Kentucky politicians have always been able to whip up rural voters by complaining that cities get too many of the goodies.
So let the Games begin. If there is anything Kentuckians love as much as horses, it is politics.