Records fall at National

DAVE DORMER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

It's been a record-breaking week so far at Spruce Meadows.

New attendance records have been set on three of the first four days of competition at this year's National as fans from around the world pour into the equestrian centre to take in the first of five events in the summer series.

Yesterday was the busiest day so far as 35,247 people passed through the gates, nearly 5,000 more than the old mark set in 1999.

Wednesday's opening day of competition saw 4,673 people show up while 5,764 spectators filled the grounds on Thursday, both new records.

Friday's attendance of 12,461 was about 300 shy of setting a new benchmark.

"It's great because there was a lot going on at this time of year with kids winding things up at school and what not," spokesman Ian Allison said.

"Sometimes, people can look with a little bit of cynisysm on Spruce Meadows, but the Southerns, from the very beginning, wanted it to be embranced by the community, and in times like these, you just have to look around the grounds and see the families out here and see the people coming up the drive-way spanning the generations and recognize there's a lot of people, not only from Calgary, but long distances away that appreciate the venue."

There's a couple of reasons for the uptick, said Allison, with the biggest being the nice weather.

"Let me put it to you this way: If this was a week ago, we're talking about how the snow affected today," he said.

"A week ago (yesterday) it was snowing, so I think it's fair to say our scheduling decision paid off."

Dogged by bad weather throughout its three decades in existance, Spuce Meadows president and CEO Linda Southern-Heathcott decided to push the start of the National back by a week to try to avoid it this time around, a move that proved extremely fortuitous as Calgarians woke up last Saturday morning to snow and hail covering the ground.

"Last week was the first time since 1976, according to Environment Canada, that there had been measurable snowfall in Calgary in June," Allison said with a grin.

"It would have been a tough weekend, but having said that, this isn't baseball, we don't go home when it rains or snows but there was 35,000 people here today and it was a great way to launch the season.

A lot of fans have also been drawn by Team Canada's performance.

"Canada doing so well always helps," said Allison.

"Save Beezie (Madden) winning (Friday) night, it's been the Maple Leaf up the flagpole every time.

"We can talk about Eric (Lamaze) and Ian (Millar) and Mario (Deslauriers), but there's been some young Canadians who have posted some pretty solid results.

"Jenna Thompson comes to mind. Today, she jumped clean, and Keean White's had a good week."

Looking ahead to today, Allison said there are plenty of reasons for fans to once again fill the grounds.

"I'm looking forward to the Atco Structures double slalom, which is one of the most interesting competitions of the year.

"It's a real fan favourite because the pure amateur kids can take on the best in the world in one-on-one, single-knockout bracket racing in show jumping."

DAVE.DORMER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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