2017 Look Ahead

A rider navigates an obstacle during the 2016 Fair Hill International, a three-star event. Fair Hill is hoping to hear whether it has been chosen to host a four-star event by the end of the month.

ANNAPOLIS — A bond bill funding race course improvements at Fair Hill, which would help pave the way for the site to host a world-class equestrian event, is expected to pass the state legislature.

State Sen. Wayne Norman (R-Harford/Cecil) said a hearing for the bill “went particularly well” and that he expects the bill to pass.

The bill, which has been a top priority for Cecil County’s state representatives in the House of Delegates and the Maryland Senate, would fund engineering designs for significant upgrades to the site’s race course.

Gov. Larry Hogan included the funding in his proposed capital budget, but the bond requires passage by both houses.

Fair Hill is on the short list to host a four-star horse eventing competition — an event on par with the Olympics in magnitude — in 2019, and this bond bill is paramount for Fair Hill being selected. Without the bond, Fair Hill’s facility may not be adequate to host an event of this scale.

Cecil County officials have estimated that the economic impact of an annual four-star event could grow to $30 million annually.

Four-star events are the pinnacle of horse eventing and draw the top competitors from around the world. Horse eventing has been described as a triathlon for horses, testing their strength and stamina as they navigate grueling courses.

Proposed improvements to the course include building a new grandstand, widening the course and constructing an irrigation system to soften the course. The latter two improvements are aimed at reducing the risk of injuries for horses and riders.

If passed, the Maryland Board of Public Works would be authorized to buy a $250,000 bond, which would require a local match of $250,000, raising a total of $500,000 for the designs. Funds would be allocated to the National Steeple Chase Foundation, a nonprofit raising money on behalf of the Fair Hill Foundation.

There was no opposition at the bill’s hearing, Norman said.

Instead, the bill drew a wide range of advocates, including officials from the National Steeple Chase Association, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Norman said.

At the bond bill’s hearing in the House Capital Budget subcommittee, Nina Gregory of the National Steeple Chase Association said that Fair Hill improvements have a “great deal” of support from the private sector and that the foundation has already raised the $250,000 for its matching fund for the bond.

“These projects all increase the safety of the facility, bringing it up to to modern standards for both people and horses,” Gregory said. “It will also put Fair Hill into position where they can host world-class horse show events down the line like the four-star.”

“The Fair Hill project is an exciting public-private partnership that not only benefits the northern part of the state and surrounding communities, but offers tourism opportunity for all of Maryland.”

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