FAIR HILL — One of the most prestigious equestrian events in the world kicked off in Fair Hill on Thursday with the debut of the Maryland 5 Star, an eventing competition set to bring international attention to Cecil County businesses and institutions.

“Much like Preakness serving as the second leg of racing’s triple crown, the annual Maryland 5 Star will undoubtedly grow in popularity as more people discover Maryland’s equine roots and the beauty of the sport of eventing,” County executive Danielle Hornberger said during Thursday's welcome event. 

There are only seven eventing competitions in the world with the 5 Star designation, two in Great Britain and one each in France, Germany, Australia and Kentucky. Eventing is a horse competition with three separate parts, one is dressage, an activity akin to horse dancing where the animal conducts a prescribed series of graceful movements. The other segments are cross country and show jumping.

Four athletes competing in Fair Hill have won Olympic gold medals. The top-ranked eventing rider in the world, Oliver Townend, along with Zara Tindall, the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, will be competing in Cecil County until the final day of the event on Sunday. 

“You're seeing a whole host of people who, without an event like the Maryland 5 star, would probably not be sitting in Elkton, Maryland today,” Steve Overbay, Cecil County director of economic development, said. 

The expected attendance at Fair Hill is between 20,000-30,000 people. Overbay hopes that attendance will continue to grow over the coming years, since the other American 5 Star event in Kentucky draws up to 80,000 people a year. Overbay said the Kentucky event gives the community an economic benefit between $15 to $16 million annually.

The Fair Hill International, an annual 3 Star event since 1989, is now going to be held in conjunction with the 5 Star, with the 3 Star competition in the morning, and the 5 Star in the afternoon.

The quality of the facilities at Fair Hill, which received around $27 million in upgrades last year from state and private investment, could draw other horse events to the county.

“The cross country course here is known as being incredibly challenging,” Overbay said. “Top riders from around the globe are interested in seeking the opportunity to come test their mettle here in Cecil County.”

Overbay said the county wants additional hotels to come to Cecil County, which would increase the likelihood of attendees spending their money locally instead of going to restaurants and stores in Delaware or Pennsylvania.

"We certainly look forward to – with The Great Wolf Lodge coming on board – increasing the number of hotel rooms that we have in Cecil County," Overbay said. "That will allow us to capture even more of the economic benefit of having an event such as this one." 

Hornberger also cited Perryville's upcoming Great Wolf Lodge as a project that pairs well with the 5 Star.

“The largest Great Wolf Lodge, which is under construction now next to our very own Hollywood Casino, will be the perfect place to rest your head and make memories too in 2023 and beyond,” Hornberger said.

Along with the 5 Star, Overbay added that the the Fair Hill Races, events at Calvert Regional Park and the Chesapeake Bay waterfront offer a variety of tourist activities in Cecil County year round, which would help hoteliers survive outside of the competition. 

“For hoteliers to be successful, you need to create a year round opportunity for them,” Overbay said. “This is simply a really good weekend when you're certain that all of their rooms would be reserved.”

Local businesses such as the Wellwood and Brookbend are selling their items in the event. There will be two events relating to Cecil County cuisine and agriculture, a beer, wine and spirits showcase on Saturday and food festival on Sunday. 5 Star Cross country will take place on Saturday, with show jumping on Sunday, each beginning at 1 p.m.

Interested readers can purchase tickets at https://maryland5star.us/tickets/

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