Tourney en route to new records

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

Call it a Masterpiece in the making.

The top horses, the best riders and a projected record-setting throng of fans have gathered from the four corners of the Earth here for the Masters, the flagship event of Spruce Meadows.

Spokesman Ian Allison believes it's indeed the cream of the equestrian crop -- on the grounds and in the stands -- to celebrate the pinnacle and concluding tournament in the 30th year of the world's top show jumping facility.

"If you look at things over the past three decades, the evolution of the sport, the athletes and the media coverage is all pretty interesting," said Allison.

"And for the fans here from all over the world -- either related to the competitors or huge fans of the sport -- this is their Wimbledon or British Open."

Enough equestrian enthusiasts are projected to fill the grounds -- taking in the exhibits and horse shows through Sunday -- to set a record for year-long attendance at the facility.

Chasing the mark of 392,166 fans who tripped through the turnstiles in 2003, Spruce Meadows needs to attract about 170,000 people this week to break the standard.

And Allison and Co. are already off to a strong start since yesterday's opening round of the 2005 Masters drew 14,720 fans for a Wednesday record at Spruce Meadows.

"Despite the flooding weather of June, we are on track to have an attendance record," said Allison, expecting to see about 50,000 fans here for each of Saturday and Sunday.

"We saw the place full on Saturday and Sunday even in June when it was raining as hard as it ever has in the history of the city."

Certainly the Masters sports the ammunition to draw enthusiasts. For the first time, a Spruce Meadows event boasts every rider -- nine in total -- who have won a million dollars in their career competing here.

Olympic gold medalist Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil is here for the Masters, as is World Cup champion Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and the world championship team from Germany.

And the Germans are looking to win their third straight Nations' Cup at Spruce Meadows, spurred on after being stripped of Olympic gold because of a doping violation and losing a Nations' Cup event last week.

"That doesn't go over very well in Germany," Allison said. "It's like losing a hockey tournament here."

Plus, for every rider from the 14 nations represented here, there is the added Masters incentive of a Spruce Meadows' record purse of $1.9 million.

"We're excited most about executing the game plan here," Allison said. "You work 365 days a year, from literally the day when the Masters ends, towards this day when you start competing. "To see it in full sail under beautiful conditions is amazing."


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