July 30, 2014 -- As long as I can remember, people have been talking about the idea of having a horse show in New York City's Central Park. But it was only talk. That is, until Donald Trump and Mark Bellissimo got involved.
They're a can-do pair. Donald's projects are too numerous to mention, and you all know Mark as the guy who overhauled what is now the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and founded the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, as well as the new Tryon, N.C. horse show facility.
Apparently one of the keys to having a show in the park involves not messing up the grass. (The London Olympic folks had to build an elevated stadium for equestrian so the turf wasn't trampled in Greenwich Park. Very expensive.) The solution in Central Park is using the Trump Rink (formerly the Wollman Rink, another project in which Donald succeeded when government could not.) It's a little tight, though Mark said it is larger than the average indoor ring, but you can be sure course designer Steve Stephens (who also is providing the themed jumps) has found a way to work with that.
So on Sept. 18, the dream becomes reality, with a $200,000 grand prix, the highlight of the new Central Park Horse Show, presented by Rolex. It will be part of four days of equestrian competition and exhibitions, running through Sept. 21, designed to give the sport a new platform and hopefully, new fans, who will have the opportunity to see top-class competition against the spectacular backdrop of the city's skyline (or part of it, anyway, New York is pretty big.) Oh, and there will be live TV on NBC Sports from 7-8:30 p.m. the night of the grand prix, the first live prime time television event for equestrian sports on a major U.S. sports network.
A press conference was held today at Tavern on the Green in the park to give details about the show. I had a chance to speak privately with Mark and discuss the impact that he thinks this event will have.
I did wonder if he might try to revive a show at Madison Square Garden, as long as he is involved with the city. But he's smart enough to know that might be a bridge too far, or to put it succinctly, a fantastically expensive logistical nightmare. In a way, though, the Central Park show inherits the mantle of the Garden, since the park is another Manhattan venue that is known around the world.
A famous horseman years ago was discussing the National Horse Show's move to New Jersey's Meadowlands Arena in 1989. When he was asked about the change, he said, "We have to find out what is more important, the event or the venue." They found out. There was great enthusiasm when the National moved back to the Garden in 1996. (For financial reasons, it only lasted through 2001.)
So a big part of the appeal of the Central Park initiative is simple: Location, location, location. The Donald and I talked about that.
In full agreement was Kent Farrington, the number one ranked U.S. show jumper. He'll be captain of the "world" team on Sept. 19, when a pro/am competition will be New York (captained by Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of the city's former mayor) vs. the rest of the world at the rink.
Kent, in case you aren't aware, has been cutting quite a swath. He's number eight in the world standings (Donald, in true "The Apprentice" fashion, said he didn't like number eight, he's rooting for Kent to be number one.)
Kent's working on it. He had quite a July, with a second place in the Aachen grand prix on Voyeur. He also won a $400,000 feature at Spruce Meadows on Uceko, who's coming back after a six-month rest. I've been trying to figure out who he'll ride in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and he said both those horses are in contention, as is Willow (though I'm not so sure about him.)
You really need a deep string these days if you want to be a world class show jumper. (Isn't that everyone's ambition?) Right after the WEG is the $1.5 million (Canadian) Canadian Pacific International at Spruce Meadows, the world's single richest class; then the Central Park show and the fall circuit, as well as the Global Champions tour, just to mention a few things that are happening.
But I digress. The Saturday night feature in Central Park will be dressage. Canadian Ashley Holzer, who was at the press conference today, is competing. I've heard a big American star may also take part, but I've been sworn to secrecy on the details. Europeans also will be coming over. I have no intelligence about who it might be, but I'm guessing Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven of Sweden, who was terrific at the Global Dressage Festival and whose sponsor, Antonia Axson-Johnson, grew up in New York and played in Central Park. Oh yes, she's also sponsoring the dressage night.
Ashley, who lives in New York, is thrilled to actually ride in Central Park. The plans for the dressage competition rang a bell with her, because a similar exhibition played an important role in her life.
The Sunday program will be devoted to polo, and afternoon programs will be various exhibitions. Guy McLean anyone? Tickets are $30 for the matinees, and half of them will be given away to kids to insure the show can have a grass roots influence.
Tickets for the evening sessions are another story -- if you can get them. There will be only 1,515 seats each night, and they're $200 each. There also will be a VIP tent with about 400 seats. General admission seats will go on sale Aug. 4 at www.centralparkhorseshow.com.
As presenting sponsor, Rolex is very involved in the event. I spoke with Peter Nicholson, Rolex Watch USA's senior advisor for communications, and Colette Bennett, the national sports marketing manager, about what they think the event will mean.
Land Rover also is involved with sponsorship. Debbie Sandford, the public relations manager, said the company is dedicated to supporting the U.S. Equestrian Federation, noting, "This is an opportunity to do this in one of our largest markets in the country."
Additional sponsors are PricewaterhouseCoopers and Adequan, with more to follow. I think this will really catch on over the term of the agreement with Trump for use of the rink. We could be looking at another $1 million class here one of these days. For sure, Mark wants to present a 5-star rated show that would include more than one jumper class in the future.
As is his practice at PBIEC, he also wants to give back, and said his family has made a $50,000 donation. Charities that will be benefitting include the Police Athletic League (several of those kids were at the press conference), the New York Police Foundation, which has donated all the horses used by the New York mounted division officers and Gallop NYC, which offers therapeutic riding to a variety of clients.
This will be a big step forward for horse sport in our country. It sounds exciting -- let's hope the weather holds!
I'll be on hand to bring you all the action when the time comes but first, I'll be sending daily postcards from the World Equestrian Games, starting Aug. 24