State board approves Fair Hill improvement plan

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The Maryland Board of Public Works voted Wednesday to approve the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area Equine Improvements project.  The approval green lights the project with construction beginning this month to upgrade the facilities and continue Fair Hill’s preparations to host its first international 5-star three-day event in 2020 and an expanded schedule of racing. A formal groundbreaking event is being planned around the 85th Fair Hill Races May 24-25.

The improvement project addresses Fair Hill’s aged equestrian infrastructure and ensures the opportunity to sustain Fair Hill’s future as one of the premier equine sports venues in the world.  It will also provide a stronger revenue model for the State of Maryland and Cecil County through major equestrian and recreational events. In addition to the 5-star and other sport-horse events, the facility will be upgraded with a new turf course – with an irrigation/drainage system, widened turns and other improvements – for flat and steeplechase racing. 

“The approval by the Board of Public Works is a very big step toward sustaining the future of Fair Hill,” said Jay Griswold, vice president of the Fair Hill Foundation’s Board of Directors. “We look forward to construction getting underway and advancing the plans for the 5-star event next year. This is an exciting day for Maryland and all of our great partners who have been supporting this project from the beginning.”

In 2020, Fair Hill will become one of seven locations in the world hosting a 5-star.  Maryland will join Kentucky as the only other state to host both a 5-star and a Triple Crown race.  The Maryland 5-star is expected to generate millions of dollars in economic impact annually. Five-star events are the pinnacle of the sport of eventing and feature elite athletes competing at a higher level than the Olympics. This three-day “triathlon” of equestrian sports judges one horse and rider pair in three phases of competition for a combined score: dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. Upgrades include the construction of a new cross-country course, already in development under course designer Ian Stark. Three new equestrian arenas will be installed on the infield of the turf course for dressage and show jumping.

Fair Hill’s historic turf racecourse, built in the late 1920s and modeled after Aintree Racecourse in England, is also being restored. The course will be resurfaced, realigned, and irrigated. Modifications will allow Fair Hill to host world-class turf racing and steeplechase racing. The race course, adjacent to Fair Hill Training Center on the south side of Md. Route 273, is approved for up to eight days of racing per year by the Maryland Racing Commission, but has been limited to one or two days in recent years – in part due to the turf course’s aging infastructure. Fair Hill, which has hosted the American Grand National and Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase in a long history dating to the first running in 1934, celebrates the 85th anniversary of the Fair Hill Races May 24-25.

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