Royal treatment

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Roll out the red welcome mat -- royalty is making its way today to the stands of Spruce Meadows.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones, will take in equestrian events.

And officials of Spruce Meadows, including spokesman Ian Allison, are pleased to welcome the regal couple.

"There's a certain amount of pride that comes with having them here," Allison said. "It's an understanding of what Spruce Meadows is -- a regal but inviting place."

Their plans to make a pit stop at the equine park are part of the royals' current tour of the province.

Over the weekend, they visited Calgary, where they spoke with soldiers and attended the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards ceremony, with the intention of returning for equestrian action.

And while the itinerary is being kept hush-hush -- although it's expected the couple will visit with riders and tour the grounds -- Allison said the Earl and Countess will sit in the infield for the Luscar Cup, which is the afternoon's feature event beginning at 5 p.m. in the International Ring.

Apart from that, officials of the show-jumping site have no special plans set for their arrival, except -- of course -- asking Mother Nature to provide a touch of warm Alberta hospitality.

"We always hope it's a special day out here at Spruce Meadows," Allison said. "If we have brilliant sun, that would be great, but if it's a soft day, then maybe they'll feel right at home here."

However, rain is in the forecast today, with a high of 15C.

Equestrian is nothing new to Prince Edward, as horsemanship runs in the family.

His brother Prince Charles is an accomplished polo player, while sister Princess Anne participated in dressage for Britain in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.

And his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, has quite the stable of race horses and is a capable rider herself, Allison said.

The Queen visited Spruce Meadows in 1989, but this will be the second appearance here by her youngest son, who toured the site once during a ski vacation to Lake Louise in the late 1980s, Allison said.

"It's always an honour when we get royalty -- we've had a wide variety visit us," said Allison, adding that Netherlands' Queen Beatrix has also visited to Spruce Meadows.

Rumour has it another celebrity may also be planning to beam himself into the National sometime this week, Allison added.

"William Shatner's office phoned here, too," said Allison of the actor who played Capt. James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame.


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