Fair Hill seeks four-star fu­ture

Looks to up­grade ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties



— The Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources an­nounced this week that dis­cus­sions are un­der­way to up­grade fa­cil­i­ties on the race­track and fair­ground por­tion of the Fair Hill Nat­u­ral Re­sources Man­age­ment Area to im­prove ex­ist­ing eques­trian events, such as Fair Hill In­ter­na­tional and Fair Hill Races, and pos­si­bly


at­tract even more pres­ti­gious ones.

Ross Ped­di­cord, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Horse In­dus­try Board, said in early Novem­ber that meet­ings in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tors, pri­vate in­vestors and state of­fi­cials have dis­cussed land use, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and pub­lic/pri­vate fund­ing op­tions. Work con­tin­ues with stake­hold­ers, park users and the greater com­mu­nity to fur­ther de­velop and re­fine the pro­posed en­hance­ments, he added.

“As the process un­folds, we will have time for pub­lic com­ment and en­gage­ment,” Ped­di­cord said.

It’s part of a vi­sion to cre­ate a Mary­land Horse Park Sys­tem, as pro­posed in a 2015 study that rec­om­mended en­hanc­ing ex­ist­ing equine-related fa­cil­i­ties all over the state to cre­ate a sys­tem that high­lights Mary­land’s horse in­dus­try.

In­ter­est in this project was buoyed this month with news that Fair Hill In­ter­na­tional has ap­plied to be a four-star host site for world­class eques­trian event­ing with the U.S. Eques­trian

Fed­er­a­tion. It is cur­rently a two-star and three-star host for three-day event­ing ac­tiv­i­ties each Oc­to­ber.

“We are ex­cited by the pos­si­bil­ity of host­ing a fourstar event,” said Carla Geiers­bach, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Fair Hill In­ter­na­tional. “With only six (four-star) events in the whole world, it would be quite an honor to be se­lected as the sev­enth.”

Three-day event­ing has been de­scribed by some as a triathlon in eques­trian sports be­cause it tests the strength and stamina of the horse, as well as the horse’s re­la­tion­ship with the rider. Through­out the three-day Fair High In­ter­na­tional, horses are tested in dres­sage, cross coun­try and show jump­ing in two-star and three-star cat­e­gories, the sec­ond and third high­est classes of com­pe­ti­tion. Four-star com­pe­ti­tion is the pin­na­cle of eques­trian sports, which would at­tract the world’s best horses and rid­ers.

“Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DNR) worked with eques­trian groups, the sports com­mis­sion for the state of Mary­land and others to en­sure the pro­posal for the fourstar event con­trib­utes the great­est ben­e­fit to all park users, while pre­serv­ing and pro­tect­ing the ru­ral char­ac­ter of the area,” DNR Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Stephen Schatz said.

Re­gard­less of the out­come of the four-star pro­posal, DNR Sec­re­tary Mark Bel­ton said there re­mains “tremen­dous in­ter­est and sup­port” to up­grade Fair Hill’s in­fra­struc­ture. A com­mu­nity-led foun­da­tion is also be­ing de­vel­oped to iden­tify po­ten­tial fund­ing for the im­prove­ments, he added.

Sup­port­ers say that im­prove­ments to Fair Hill are ex­pected to in­crease the site’s at­trac­tive­ness as a venue for eques­trian events, as well as ben­e­fit all users and vis­i­tors.

“The pro­posed projects at Fair Hill could help es­tab­lish it as a steeple­chase des­ti­na­tion through­out the Mid-At­lantic re­gion,” said Bill Gallo, Na­tional Steeple­chase As­so­ci­a­tion direc­tor of rac­ing.

Fair Hill In­ter­na­tional ex­pects to find out some­time in 2017 if the U.S. Eques­trian Fed­er­a­tion will rec­om­mend the Ce­cil County site to the in­ter­na­tional eques­trian fed­er­a­tion for fi­nal ap­proval to be­come a four-star venue. If suc­cess­ful, Mary­land would join Ken­tucky as the only state to host both a Triple Crown race and a four-star event.

Fair Hill’s push for a fourstar event comes at a time when the Mary­land horse in­dus­try is mak­ing a come­back, as de­tailed in the re­sults of a re­cently-re­leased eco­nomic im­pact study.

The horse in­dus­try in Mary­land is gen­er­at­ing $1.1 bil­lion a year, which is a 23 per­cent gain over 2010 and that fig­ure is ex­pected to in­crease to $1.5 bil­lion in an­nual im­pact by 2020. In 2015, the in­dus­try em­ployed 9,100 in full time jobs, earn­ing a to­tal of about $482 mil­lion, the study says.

All facets of the in­dus­try are show­ing an uptick in numbers, in­clud­ing breed­ing, ac­cord­ing to the study done by Sage Pol­icy Group.

The in­dus­try re­ceived a huge boost in 2008 when the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly ap­proved slot ma­chine gam­bling at five lo­ca­tions — soon to be six — through­out the state. As part of the leg­is­la­tion, 7 per­cent of the slots rev­enue was to be ded­i­cated to in­creas­ing the purses at the race­tracks and fund­ing in­cen­tives for breed­ing. An­other 2.5 per­cent was ded­i­cated to a race­track im­prove­ment fund.


A rider nav­i­gates an ob­sta­cle dur­ing the 2016 Fair Hill In­ter­na­tional, a three-star event. Fair Hill is cur­rently work­ing to up­grade its fa­cil­i­ties and at­tract a four-star event.


New facility up­grades could even­tu­ally move Fair Hill In­ter­na­tional to the fair­grounds rather than its cur­rent home off Gal­la­her Road.

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