If absence makes the heart grow fonder, that should benefit the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas next April.
These annual indoor championships in show jumping and dressage were last held in the Nevada city in 2009. Before that, they were hosted there in 2005 and 2007 (jumping alone was there in 2000 and 2003 as well), but economic considerations scuttled plans to stage them in the nation’s entertainment capital in 2011.
The finals return April 15–19 to the Thomas & Mack Center, just minutes from the city’s glittering strip. Every performance will begin with competition highlights shown on the Jumbotron in the center of the arena to the tune of Elvis Presley’s rousing “Viva Las Vegas,” a sure way to raise fans’ adrenaline level.
The Schedule & Venue
The event kicks off Wednesday, April 15, with warm-ups for both jumping and dressage, when spectators can catch a sneak preview of the competitors and their mounts and perhaps pick up some training tips. It’s often also a chance to see the riders’ personalities shine through.
Riders competing in the Reem Acra FEI Dressage Final, a two-class event, will kick off the competition in the Grand Prix, which starts at noon on Thursday. Those who qualify will advance to the Freestyle final, which is moving from its usual Saturday-night slot to that day’s matinee so European television can broadcast it in prime time. Dressage riders who don’t qualify for the Freestyle can ride in the Las Vegas Dressage Showcase during Friday’s matinee performance.
The Longines FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final is a three-phase event. The first two legs are the main evening performances on Thursday and Friday. The final phase is the highlight of the Sunday matinee.
Jumpers not qualifying for Sunday’s two-round finale can compete in Saturday night’s $75,000 Las Vegas Jumping Grand Prix for the John Quirk Cup, given in memory of the late Californian who came up with the idea for holding the finals in Vegas. “John is on my shoulder every day,” said event director Tim Keener of Las Vegas Events, which is presenting the finals. “He’s still part of the team.” Extra horses brought by the Cup competitors can participate in the class as well, along with some non-Cup riders who generally come from California.
The competition, of course, will be amid the city’s trademark razzle-dazzle show-biz performances that offer an extra level of excitement and ensure that there isn’t a moment of boredom. Tim noted some of the acts may be coming from Europe this year. Previous years’ finals included fireworks, a national anthem singer backed by showgirls adorned in feathers and acrobats who kept fans riveted while the ring was cleared for an awards ceremony. In 2009, an Elvis impersonator in a white leather, silver-studded jumpsuit and cape rode into the arena on a buckskin reining horse and the trophy for the jumping-final winner, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, made its entrance in the arms of a sparkling, scantily clad showgirl who descended from the ceiling on a wire.
Changes this year include the addition of a fan zone near the front of the arena that is open to everyone, making the event more interactive than ever before. The location of the VIP area now also will be in the front of the arena instead of around the back, giving better access to riders, while offering special events, including tastings created by chefs from high-end hotels in the area.
The gift show that has always been a part of the Vegas World Cup experience will have 120 vendors, offering everything from equine specialties to clothing, jewelry, furnishings and other enticements.
Another enthusiasm booster is the potential lineup of competitors, especially in show jumping where many riders have multiple horses for the job. Qualifying won’t finish until this spring, but count on McLain Ward wanting to win his first World Cup show-jumping final as will his archrival (and close friend) Kent Farrington. Beezie Madden, the 2013 winner, also will be looking for another title. If an American wins over Anthony D’Ambrosio’s courses, though, it will be the first time that has happened in Vegas.
From Great Britain, figure on Olympic gold medalists Scott Brash and Ben Maher, who hold the number-one and -three spots respectively on the FEI ranking list. German rider and defending champ Daniel Deusser should be on hand along with his countryman Marcus Ehning, who won the first of his three Cup finals at Thomas & Mack in 2003. And what would a finals be without another three-time winner, Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, victorious in the Cup’s 2000 Vegas debut?
In the dressage final, Olympic double-gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain most likely will defend her 2014 title with Valegro, facing off with 2013 winner Helen Langehanenberg of Germany and her wonderful Damon Hill NRW. For the United States, expect Steffen Peters, who won the 2009 final in Las Vegas on Ravel, to be on hand with partner Legolas 92. And we could see 2014’s young U.S. sensation, Laura Graves and her Verdades, taking part. You can bet on the presence of Germany’s Isabell Werth, perhaps with her ever-improving Bella Rose.
Although things will be hopping throughout the week at Thomas & Mack, there’s always time to take in the city’s legion of shows or dine at its plethora of restaurants. Those who want to economize on dining can eat their fill at reasonably priced buffets offered by many hotels.
Special discounted rates will be available at World Cup hotels, where shuttles to the arena are offered. The hotels had not been announced at press time but will be posted at www.worldcuplasvegas.com, along with information on tickets. They are being sold in packages for the rest of the year; tickets for individual sessions will go on sale in January. Tim said sales already “are well ahead of the pace” of 2009.
Balcony packages for all show-jumping or dressage sessions run $200 per person, $350 at plaza level and $1,500 for VIP seating, with access to the VIP hospitality area. For a dressage/jumping combo package, balcony seating is $350, plaza seating is $650 and VIP is $2,950.
If you can’t make it to the 2015 show, you may get a chance to recoup. “It’s our intent to put a bid in for 2019,” said Tim. “The every-four-year cycle seems to work.”