Fair Hill International, known for the annual equestrian Three-Day Event in Cecil County, has been recommended to hold a "four-star" competition in that sport by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.
The USEF recommendation now goes to the international organization for the sport for a final decision in the fall, but it is entirely anticipated that the four-star eventing competition will be held by Fair Hill International in fall 2019. Fair Hill International already holds a three-star Three-Day competition -- often referred to as an equestrian "triathlon" -- at Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area in Cecil County each October.
The big prize is the elevation of the Fair Hill International from a three-star to a four-star classification, attracting world-class competition. Currently, there are just six four-star Three-Day Event competitions in the world, and only one in the United States in Lexington, Ky.
Fair Hill International has been vying for the upgraded classification since last year when USEF sent out a call for bids to host a second domestic four-star Three-Day Eventing competition. Five sites submitted bids, and it came down to two candidates -- Fair Hill International and Great Meadow in The Plains, Va.
Fair Hill International and other interested parties, such as the Fair Hill Foundation, Maryland's Sports Commission, the Maryland Horse Industry Board and Cecil County government, pulled out all the stops in aggressively pursuing the opportunity.
"Our team has worked really hard to bring the 4-star to Fair Hill," said Trish Gilbert, co-president of Fair Hill International, in a statement. "It is an honor to be selected to put on an event of this caliber -- to showcase Maryland and the beautiful Fair Hill terrain on a world stage."
Eventing gets its reputation as a triathlon for horse and rider because it consists of three disciplines: dressage, which demonstrates horse-and-rider nimbleness and teamwork; cross-country racing, a challenge of speed and power; and show jumping, a stage coming after the other two phases that tests a horse's resiliency and athleticism.
Winning the four-star classification has benefits far beyond simply prestige.
The three-star Fair Hill International typically attracts about 15,000 spectators throughout four days. Using the four-star Rolex Kentucky Three-Day in Lexington as a projection model, the attendance at Fair Hill could increase to as many as 80,000 spectators over time with an economic impact of $20 to $30 million to Cecil County as well as nearby Delaware.
Besides Kentucky, the other four-star Three-Day competitions are in England (two), France, Germany and Australia.
The four-star status also means upgrades will be coming to some portions of the Fair Hill facility, a sprawling 5,613-acre Natural Resources Management Area. Improvements in the works at Fair Hill include irrigating the turf course, adjustments to the cross-country racecourse, upgrades to performance rings, and renovations to the grandstand overlooking the turf track and rings. Some improvements may have been done in any case, but clearly the four-star status ratchets up ambitions and goals.
"This news paves the path necessary for our Fair Hill team and partners to move forward in delivering a world-class venue and a world-class event to achieve the economic threshold we believe this event can have on Maryland, Cecil County and the entire region," said Terry Hasseltine, the executive director of Maryland's Sports Commission.
As equestrian and sports interests were making the bid for the four-star classification, the point was made that to date only Kentucky had both a Triple Crown thoroughbred race, the Kentucky Derby, and a four-star Three-Day Event. Now Maryland, with the Preakness and the Fair Hill International four-star, joins that exclusive club.
"This announcement has awakened a sleeping giant, which is our $1 billion-plus equine industry," said Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. "It will make Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region the center of the international horse world each fall and have a lasting impact on our industry for years to come."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Brinkman