Whether spectator, Olympic-level competitor or rider aspiring to reach the upper echelons in the sport of three-day eventing, Fair Hill International has long loomed large as the venue of champions.
But the dream of so many that the northeast Maryland facility rises to the level of one of the premier eventing sites in the world recently took a major step toward becoming a reality.
The FEI last fall endorsed the United States Equestrian Federation's recommendation to designate historic Fair Hill as a four-star event site, over a bid submitted by Great Meadow in Virginia. By 2020 Fair Hill will stand as one of two four-star eventing sites in North America and among only seven such top locales in the world.
"The state is committed to bringing this world-renowned equestrian eventing competition to Cecil County and Fair Hill," said Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton in a press release. "Working together with our friends and partners in the private and public sectors, we will make Maryland the premier destination for equestrian and equine events, and add yet another chapter to our storied horse racing history and legacy."
A unique public/private partnership was key to the successful bid to win the four-star designation, organizers say. Among the entities involved were Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Stadium Authority and Maryland Horse Industry Board, along with Cecil County and the Cecil County Fair Board. The proposed improvements at Fair Hill will update and upgrade the park's equestrian facilities and infrastructure by 2020.
Design improvements include an irrigated turf race course, a new timber racing course, a cross country component, a graded grass field on the infield, a new training area and an equine campground. The grandstand overlooking the turf track will undergo a renovation and tunnels built to provide safe pedestrian travel under Rt. 273.
The design phase of the project is projected to cost about $2 million, divided equally between the state and the Fair Hill Foundation, Inc. The completed cost is estimated at $18 million.
Ann Haller said the ageing tracks were in need of improvements including better grading and footing, and wider turns. Infrastructure for spectators and media also will be improved, such as parking lots closer to the courses and arenas, permanent bathrooms, and improved WiFi to allow for live streaming.
The property features a 3 ½ mile steeplechase track and 7/8 mile turf track, which host just a handful of races each year, but the idea is that racing will be expanded with the improvements, Haller said. Under the proposed design, the dressage and stadium jumping arenas will be located in the infield of the turf track.
Currently, there is only one four-star event in North America –the Land Rover (formerly Rolex) Three- Day Event held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington each spring.
Whether called a four-star or five, the top designation will elevate Fair Hill to the level of Badminton and Burghley in the United Kingdom, draw top international riders, quadruple the number of spectators and expand the economic impact of equine sports to the area.
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