Frankfort, KY – On August 27, 2006, then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher arrived in Germany, on official business, to witness the World Equestrian Games. But when word came that Comair Flight 5191 had crashed in Lexington, killing 49 people, Fletcher immediately turned around and came home. Five days later, after monitoring the crash investigation and consoling family members, Fletcher headed back to Germany.
"I think most people understand that we have a very, very important role in the World Equestrian Games," said Fletcher, "and it's important for me to get back and represent the Commonwealth for that."
Indeed, Kentucky had been chosen as the site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, the first time the games would be held outside Europe. Fletcher was returning to Germany for the closing ceremonies of the 2006 games.
"Where they pass the torch, if you will, to me for the World Equestrian Games in 2010," said Fletcher.
The Aachen, Germany, games featured 750 athletes and 850 horses from 61 countries and drew more than 500,000 spectators. Kentucky began planning for an even bigger event. The General Assembly appropriated $38 million for a new indoor arena and road improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park, but in June 2007, park director John Nicholson told lawmakers another $34 million was needed.
"We went to Aachen, Germany, and realized that the price of poker had been raised," said Nicholson. "When we had bid for the games, none of the cities had much more than temporary stadiums. Aachen had changed that. They had a beautiful 40,000 seat stadium. We don't want to take steps back in terms of the World Equestrian Games. We want to be the best ever."
Nicholson said the investments would help make the Horse Park self sufficient, and put it in the black by 2012. The indoor arena, a driving stadium and a main stadium have been built at the Horse Park, but plans to build a luxury hotel were shelved. Last October, Gov. Beshear embarked on an economic development trip to the Orient - his second since taking office in December 2007. Besides trying to lure new industry to Kentucky, one of the governor's primary goals, said spokesperson Jill Midkiff, was to heavily promote the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
"It's just another opportunity to attract attention, bring them into Kentucky and hopefully, once we get them here and they see what a beautiful state it is, what our resources are, what our people are like, they may be interested in locating their businesses here," said Midkiff.
And now the games are upon us. Opening ceremonies for the 16-day event are Saturday at the Horse Park. And First Lady Jane Beshear hopes Kentuckians will take advantage of this unique opportunity to see the best equestrian athletes in the world, and their horses. She says a grounds pass is only $25 a day.
"There will be music and art and food and fun and activities for children - just so many different things going on outside of the actual competition," said Mrs. Beshear.
Mrs. Beshear plans to be at the games every day, if possible, talking up Kentucky and showcasing the state. Gov. Beshear will attend the opening ceremonies and other events as time permits.
So, after more than four years of planning and development, the Alltech FEI 2010 World Equestrian Games are here - 900 equestrian athletes and 1,300 horses from 58 countries, driving, jumping, vaulting, reining before hundreds of thousands of spectators. And it's all, right here, in Kentucky.