2009 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival Opens to Big Turnout in Near Perfect Weather
RELEASE: January 8, 2009
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Ken Braddick
The 2009 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) opened Wednesday to rave reviews for the $10-million makeover of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Opening day in almost perfect weather with temperatures reaching a high of about 80 degrees F (27 degrees Celsius) saw 854 hunter and jumper trips in 10 competition arenas. The annual George H. Morris Horsemanship Clinic filled another arena.
Although the premiere jumper rings, International, DeNemethy and Mogavero arenas drew 231 entries from eight nations in the national classes, much of the attention was on the improvements to the show grounds. Beezie Madden, McLain Ward and Laura Kraut of the 2008 Olympic Gold medal team, as well as Ian Millar from Canada's Silver medal squad were competing.
Eric Lamaze, the Canadian who won Individual Gold as well as Team Silver medals, spent his first day as the world's number one-ranked rider preparing his horses next door to PBIEC. His riding and teaching was interrupted frequently for interviews by U.S. and Canadian TV, print and Internet reporters.
The media had flocked to PBIEC to chronicle the 30th anniversary of WEF and the growth into the world's largest and longest running horse show with more than $5.5 million in prize money.
The 100-plus acres of show grounds were acquired by a group named Wellington Equestrian Partners with the goal of establishing the area around the show grounds as one of the world's premier equestrian lifestyle destinations.
About $10 million has been invested in a complete makeover of the show grounds for events managed by the WEP-owned Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP).
As in 2008, the major focus of the improvements at PBIEC has been footing. The surface that is virtually identical to that used at the Beijing Olympics was installed a year ago in the centerpiece International Arena and the DeNemethy ring. For 2009, it was extended to the Mogavero ring. Other competition arenas received new "classic" footing.
But the most admired improvements have been to the International Arena with what Mark Bellissimo, ESP Chief Executive, describes as making the main ring more "spectator accessible."
That has involved constructing permanent, tiered seating decks, more VIP boxes and better quality food, drink and shopping options. Several hundred palm trees have been planted, as well as thousands of flowers and bushes to further beautify the facility.
One building that is sure to be a popular feature is a two-story tiki hut that as the highest point of the show grounds. The second floor will feature a bar and raw bar that exhibitors said they couldn't wait to be completed.
Asked repeatedly about the impact of the global economic downturn, Bellissimo said that it was too early to determine whether entries would be affected. However, he said, about 300 horses from owners, trainers and riders that had not previously been to WEF had committed to the show. The new entries could go toward making up any decline in exhibitors who decide not to show at PBIEC this year. "Horse people are passionate about their horses," Bellissimo said. "While the world is retreating, we are trying to advance."
As part of ESP's program to make horse sports more accessible, admission to the show grounds for the first two weeks will be free. The free admission policy will be extended to Wednesday through Friday competition days except for World Dressage Masters night events and the Nations Cup, which will be $25 for general admission.
Saturday and Sunday admission will be $10 for adults and $5 for serving military and senior citizens while Saturday night events will be $15 for adults and $10 for serving military and seniors. There will be no charge for children under 16 years of age.