“I think a lot of European shows should learn from this — people are dancing and laughing. It shouldn’t just be about sport, but entertaining people.”
So said Steve Guerdat at last night’s World Cup press conference in Las Vegas and in doing so he summed up the “let’s put on a show” atmosphere here.
I didn’t really know what to expect on the way out, but I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that everything is done on a large scale.
“Don’t try to walk anywhere — the next hotel looks near, but everything is so big it’s actually half an hour away,” advised our driver on the way to the hotel, the MGM Grand, also the official riders’ residence.
And yes, he was right. I’ve never been in such a huge hotel. It’s more akin to a small town, with the ground floor a maze of casinos, restaurants, bars and theatres. The swimming pool complex is about 10 minutes walk from our room.
You know how usually when you go to a show, it sort of takes over the local area? Even in the fair-sized French city of Caen at last year’s World Equestrian Games, you couldn’t move in the main restaurant street without bumping into a rider, a chef d’equipe, a party of owners, some other journalists.
Not so in Vegas. This place could swallow 15 World Cup finals whole and not even notice. Yes, we’ve come across the odd equestrian strolling through the confusing neon-lit carpet corridors of the MGM, but most people — and every strata of society can see and be seen here — wouldn’t even be aware there’s a major horse show on just down the road.
But that’s not to say the show isn’t amazing. It is. And there are lots of people here. The arena has a capacity of 12,000 people and there have been over 7,000 at every session so far. People queued from 8am this morning for Charlotte Dujardin’s autograph and the first lady in the queue burst into tears when she met her (thanks to radio journo Rupert Bell for the photo below).
And, as I say, they put on a show. Each session starts with an opening ceremony, which begins with a celebrity singing the national anthem while an increasingly excited Western horse carries the star-spangled banner. Then there’s another act — an Elvis impersonator, a Lady Gaga lookalike, a man who performs terrifying airs above the ground in a spinning gyroscope, accompanied by lighting effects and fireworks — before the sport beings.
The halfway point of the showjumping classes, while the arena is being rolled, is a whole event in itself, too. There’s a man who can throw signed T-shirts fantastic distances into the crowd and who encourages people to “dance like me” to win one. And then there’s kiss cam, when couples (or perhaps they are father and daughter — cringe) are picked out on the big screen and encouraged to engage in a passionate smooch.
It’s different, it’s crazy, but what’s not to like? The more traditional elements of equestrianism might not like it, but it’s harmless. I’m inclined to agree with Steve that in this case, what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas. Kiss cam on the big screen at Badminton, anyone?