Even as they announced cancellation of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event event for the second year, its organizers were hustling today to produce other competitions on their April dates to help insure they will have sufficient funds for putting on a CCI 5-star again in 2022.
Equestrian Events Inc. had sought permission from the U.S. Equestrian Federation, which has a ban on spectators at licensed competitions because of Covid, to stage the 5-star with fans present at 50 per cent capacity of its facilities. For EEI, a 5-star requires revenue from ticket sales due to the high production costs involved ‒ everything from prize money and closed-circuit TV to separate stabling for horses from several foreign countries whose riders had been planning to come.
While EEI had hoped to wait a little longer before deciding whether the 5-star could happen, with the emergence of new variants of the Corona virus, “Eleven weeks out from the first jog, there were so many decisions we’ve got to make…there’s so much uncertainty that we just couldn’t continue to put it off,” said EEI Executive Director Lee Carter.
The news is a blow to the high-level riders planning to compete.
“It was a terribly disappointing decision,” said Olympic veteran Boyd Martin, who has a string of top horses and was second in the 2019 5-star with Tsetserleg.
“Sadly for me, I feel like last year and this year I had a real chance of winning it. It’s just heartbreaking that we’re not going to run the competition.”
In his view, Boyd said, “This is by far the biggest and best equestrian competition in America. For them to come up with the decision not to have it is quite sad for American eventing.
“Other major sports in the world have figured out a way to keep these big events going,” he added, pointing out that France ran Pau last fall. It was the only one of the six existing 5-stars that was held in 2020.
“I wouldn’t mind as a participant if there were no spectators or even no prize money. This is such an important competition for the American riders,” observed Boyd.
Lee said the idea of running a bare-bones 5-star had been mentioned, but didn’t gain traction as there wasn’t sufficient money available. EEI was committed to paying refunds if those who had already bought tickets for 2020 and 2021 wanted them, rather than rolling over their purchases to 2022.
Last month, Lee was concerned that if the 5-star didn’t run with spectators this year, it might never run again because of the financial situation.
However, since then, EEI got its second Payroll Protection money from the government. The Horse Park could handle more than 500 competitors paying entry fees for the redesigned April event, he pointed out, noting they had run 900 entries at the American Eventing Championships in 2019 (they were cancelled last year). The idea is for the April event to bridge a funding gap until the AECs at the end of the summer, which in turn would bridge a gap until tickets for the 2022 5-Star could go on sale in the fall.
“I think we’ll be there in 2022,” he said of the 5-star. “I’m confident of it; it might get tight at times, but we will find a way.”
EEI also will be looking to see if “there other holes in the calendar at the Horse Park or elsewhere where we can step in and fill a void. We’re going to try to be as nimble as we can.”
EEI is in discussions to come up with a full program for the 5-star’s April 22-25 dates. A 4-star Short that has been licensed and was supposed to run with the 5-star to give spectators more cross-country competition to watch would use a course laid out by Olympic cross-country designer Derek di Grazia.
Asked if the 4-star short could replace the 5-star’s function as an Olympic selection trial, USEF Director of Sport Will Connell said, “A CCI4*-S can be declared a Selection Trial under the existing Selection Procedures. The process of considering and announcing whether this will be a Selection Trial will start now, as will the process of working with the Kentucky Organizing Committee to see what can replace the CCI5*.”
With national-level eventing sections as part of the program that is still in development, some of those who used to come to watch could now be competing, Lee pointed out. What other divisions will be offered is still under discussion, but Lee isn’t ruling out anything, even western barrel racing or reining.
“No stone will be left unturned,” he said.
Grand prix show jumping that has been held concurrently with the 5-star is also a possibility, perhaps with more than the two classes that are usually offered if it can be allowed under the USEF mileage rule.
While Land Rover, Mars (the presenting sponsor) and Rolex have been supportive, Lee mentioned they are the 5-star sponsors and what will be happening this April is a different event. So in terms of whether they might do something this spring, “those are conversations we haven’t gotten into fully yet.”
If USEF decides to let allow spectators to attend at some capacity by April, EEI will be open to hosting them, which would bring in extra revenue.
Of the work in progress, Lee said, “We’re just trying to provide an opportunity for folks to compete and for us to sustain…and go from there.”