The countdown to the Summer Olympics in Japan is underway, generating a buzz that will be felt during the $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing showcase.
The second edition of the equestrian competition will be held Friday and Saturday at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field.
“An Olympic year always amps everything up," said Phillip Dutton, chairman of the committee that organizes the Grand-Prix. “There is a little bit more excitement about how horses are going and riders are going.”
In 1996 and 2000, Dutton was a member of Australia’s gold medal-winning Olympic eventing team.
While riding for the United States in 2016, he won an individual Olympic bronze medal on a horse named Mighty Nice.
And Dutton would like to represent the U.S. again at the Olympics in a sport that has three phases – dressage, show jumping and cross-country.
“There are certain qualifying events that selectors will make their picks from, and the one in Aiken is not one of those,” Dutton said. “But you don’t want to have a hiccup somewhere along the way, either. You want to have good performances all spring, so the selectors will have more confidence in you.”
Owner of a farm in the Aiken area with his wife, Evie, Dutton will be riding Fernhill Singapore and Z at Bruce’s Field, according to the Grand-Prix entry list.
Boyd Martin, who trains during the winter at Stable View near Aiken, also will be competing in the Grand-Prix. He will be aboard Long Island T and Tsetserleg.
Last summer, Martin was on the U.S. squad that won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Peru. He also earned an individual gold medal while riding Tsetserleg.
“Everybody has got Olympic fever at the moment,” said Martin, who was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and 2016. “There is a bit more focus and pressure and energy. I think that Grand-Prix Eventing at Bruce’s Field is going to be a high caliber event that will showcase some of the top riders and horses.”
Doug Payne, who also has close ties to Aiken, will join Martin and Dutton in the Grand-Prix field. His mounts will be Quantum Leap and Vandiver.
Last year, Payne and Vandiver finished second in the inaugural Grand-Prix in 2019.
Payne and another horse, Starr Witness, were on the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the Pan American Games.
Gates will open at Bruce’s Field at 7 a.m. Friday.
The dressage phase will start around 7:45 a.m., and show jumping will begin at 4 p.m.
On Saturday, gates will open at 10 a.m., and the cross-country competition will start at 2:30 p.m.
There also will be a craft beer festival and a 5 p.m. concert by the band Whiskey Run.
Tickets for each day will cost $20 apiece at the gate.
There will be no admission charge for children 12 years of age and under.
For more information, visit aikenhorsepark.org and the Aiken Horse Park Foundation page on Facebook.
Bruce’s Field is at 931 Powderhouse Road S.E.