With less than two weeks to go, excitement is building around the inaugural Maryland 5* Three-Day Event. The new facilities, just down the road from the site of the longtime Fair Hill International Three-Day Event, are rapidly being transformed into a hub for spectators and vendors, with crews paving roads and the jog strip in the racetrack infield last week, VIP seating being erected around the main arena, and various hospitality locations set up at key points on the cross country course.
While Fair Hill and its accompanying Festival in the Country have long been a staple of the fall eventing calendar in the United States, the new Maryland 5* is taking everything to the next level. CEO Jeff Newman said that while the new event will retain some of the flavor of the previous event, it will definitely be bringing the sport of eventing into the future.
With activity focused around the main arena, located in the racetrack infield’s “Fair Hill Special Events Zone” there will be various tiers of VIP seating and hospitality (see video with Jeff Newman), and either side of the stadium will be flanked by trade fair vendors. General admission tickets will include access to the grounds, trade fair, Young Event Horse competition on Thursday and Friday, and the warmup areas.
Stadium seating will be ticketed, except for the top few rows of the permanent grandstand. The Blade and Bow VIP section offers reserved seating and all-inclusive hospitality for the duration of the event. An exciting aspect of the Sponsor Chalets, with private hospitality for guests, is that the reserved seating faces the stadium on one side, where dressage and show jumping will take place, while the other side offers sweeping views of the start box and finish line on the cross-country course.
Activities for kids and families will take place near the main entrance, and separate tickets are available for a beer and spirits. The Brook Bend Interiors Arts and Crafts Center will offer activities for kids as well as retail; the Maryland Horse Industry Board’s “Horseland”, which they offer at the Maryland State Fair every year, will offer up close and personal encounters with ponies, miniature horses and other rescues, as well as interactive, educational activities like how to groom a horse. Dog owners can take advantage of the KONG® Equine Doggie Daycare — you must register ahead of time to use this service.
Spectators who aren’t directly interested in the competition (i.e. the non-horsey spouses who get dragged along to take the kids to Horseland while their partner swoons over the horses and riders), may find respite in the Beer, Wine and Spirits festival on Saturday (requiring a separate ticket) and the Maryland Fresh Foods Fest on Sunday (free admission), as well as live entertainment. On Thursday and Friday this area will showcase local non-profit organizations.
There are multiple international riders crossing the pond to compete, partly thanks to the cancellation of other major events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and partly because the very attractive money (a purse of $300,000 total in the 5*, with $100k going to the winner). The illustrious list includes Zara Tindall, former European Champion, Olympic Silver Medalist and a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, as well as three-time Kentucky winner Oliver Townend (GBR), Harry Meade (GBR), Tim and Jonelle Price (NZL), Astier Nicholas (FRA) and Maxime Livio (FRA).
Newman explained that the international horses will fly over on a Dutta Corporation Jet at a reduced rate, and then be transported at no cost to riders by Brook Ledge horse van after quarantining at The Ark at JFK Airport. Dutta Corporation has long been a sponsor of Fair Hill, and this partnership makes the international travel more affordable. There will also be unique amenities for riders at the event, including a tent sponsored by the active wear brand ALO Yoga, where riders can relax, do complimentary yoga classes, or have a massage. This Relaxation Zone will be located at the far end of the infield from the spectator area, conveniently close to stabling.
One of the most exciting aspects of the new venue for both riders and spectators is the ample open space to accommodate the cross country courses. The entire venue is part of the Fair Hill Environmental Resources Area, which is a State Park and is managed by the Department of Natural Resources. All of the fields and forests are impeccably maintained.
Designed by Ian Stark and built by Eric Bull’s ETB Equine Construction, the cross country course encompasses three separate open areas connected by galloping lanes. The established turf has been groomed to perfection, and Bull’s Maryland-themed fences are truly works of art. (Sorry, but the actual fences are still under wraps, so no photos!) Event Manager Kaleigh Collett said that there will food trucks at strategic locations on the course and a shuttle to take spectators to key viewing and entertainment areas.
The three main areas of the course include the gently rolling Timber Field, where the start and finish are located; that is connected by the “Unnamed Tributary”, a connecting galloping lane through the woods, to the Middle Hayfield, which is more steeply hilly terrain. Granny’s Run, a manmade land bridge over a natural stream, connects this to the Sawmill Field, which slopes gradually uphill and includes several big complexes including the main water jump and the Fair Hill bank, as well as more fun Maryland-themed fences.
Newman pointed out that the Maryland 5* is a great economic stimulus for Northeast Maryland and all of the businesses that have had a tough go of it over the past year and a half due to Covid-19.
“A lot of our partners are Maryland businesses, like the Select Event Group, which is building all of the structures for spectators,” he said. In their travels to Maryland for the competition, Newman encourages spectators to look beyond the event venue. “Just down the road we have great crab restaurants, breweries, and quaint shopping,” he said. “Cecil County is one of Maryland’s best-kept secrets.”