It's really real, and finally here

It takes a state to throw an Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

At least that's how it feels as we count down to an event we've been talking about for so long it had begun to seem unreal.

Well, it's real.

The frantic activity at a transformed Kentucky Horse Park attests to that. So do the "no vacancies" at hotels and motels as visitors from around the world touch down in the Bluegrass.

At the heart of all the hoopla are the world's best horses and equestrians. The Games will be judged first and foremost on the venue and the organization of the competition. Next to last winter's Olympics in British Columbia, this is probably the biggest sporting event that will be held in North America this year.

From all appearances, the Horse Park is up to the task. The new arenas, paid for by Kentucky taxpayers, should continue to draw world-class competitors and audiences (and their money) for decades to come.

Kentucky and Lexington will also be judged on the quality of the overall experience for participants and spectators.

This is the first time the Games have been held outside Europe, where quick and easy public transportation is taken for granted. It remains to be seen how Lexington's shuttles and makeshift transport will hold up to the demands.

We've known for months that ticket sales have been disappointing. This is hardly surprising, given the global economic downturn. Also, consumed by myriad other details, organizers perhaps put too little effort into marketing tickets early.

Former Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his Commerce secretary, Jim Host, landed the Games. Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear, equestrians themselves, dived into the planning.

But the one person who has most deeply stamped these Games is Pearse Lyons, the transplanted Irishman, impresario, scientist and international businessman. His contributions go far beyond his company's sponsorship.

Lyons and Alltech have taken the lead on many fronts, from practical logistics to shoring up ticket sales to bringing in a children's choir from Haiti to tour Kentucky and share a bill with the quintessentially Irish Chieftains.

There's no way to overstate Alltech's contributions. But Alltech must figure it's a good deal; the Nicholasville-based company that specializes in animal nutrition is poised to be the title sponsor for the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.

Aside from the competition, exhibits and international flavor at the Horse Park, downtown Lexington is ready for two weeks of free fun. Downtown looks great, and the Spotlight Lexington festival offers something for everyone.

Across the state, the Alltech Fortnight Festival will bring a variety of musical talent to local stages.

An event this large will inevitably produce some snafus. We can only hope they'll be small and do what we can to make sure our visitors go home with good things to say about Kentucky.