With the event starting on 29th April this will be the last ‘monthly’ diary this year. As usual, April has been extraordinarily busy with continuous activity on site. Most of our contractors are hard at work – the park resembles a big building site with now probably several hundred people working to get everything ready.
It hasn’t rained here since Easter so the ground generally is now pretty dry. The benefits of the turf management programme are very obvious indeed, with the course and the arena looking and feeling totally different to their ‘natural’ surroundings. We are irrigating the drier parts of the course that are accessible and looking every day at the constantly changing weather forecasts – three days ago thunderstorms were forecast for this coming weekend, but no longer! Even if the going turns out to be firm, it will be very even and smooth with a good covering of grass.
Lots of filming has taken place here this month, all of it now on our website. First Yogi Breisner’s preview, then the course walk with Polly Stockton, then a short piece when Pippa Funnell came for Horse and Hound and World Horse Welfare, our nominated Charity of the Year. Chris Lewis our TV Producer came for his final visit this week, when we made sure the camera positions could see the strung course properly and the sponsors banners were sited to their best advantage but complying with the TV regulations.
Last week saw Press Day when we invite local, national and equestrian journalists for a preview of the course in a fleet of Mitsubishi Shoguns, the opportunity to take photos and ask questions and then enjoy an excellent lunch hosted by the Duke and Duchess. It was a happy day with many old friends meeting for the first time this year.
We waited with bated breath to see how many of the qualified Grassroots riders would actually enter and our predictions were just about right – 170 odd between the two classes, so more than we had really wanted but we reckon we can just about cope without starting before dawn! That course has really taken shape in the last few weeks and suddenly with the stringing and flags it, just like the International course, looks ready for customers. At a couple of places around the Lake the stringing does look a bit like a maze but hopefully it will all be clear to those walking each track.
After the huge entry, withdrawals from the International event had been many fewer than usual – some people thought we must be out of date on our website as it changed so rarely! However the past week has seen quite a few more and it seems more possible than we thought that by next Tuesday Mark Todd might actually get in – to ride here 30 years after his first, winning appearance in 1980.
The dreaded Icelandic Volcano claimed one very sad casualty, in that Philip Dutton’s ride Woodburn was unable to travel from the United States and so had to withdraw – he at least will get a run in Kentucky but we are sorry this top American, formerly Australian jockey cannot be here. We asked the generous Sue Stewart to be on stand by to judge as a member of the Ground Jury in case Nicoli Fife could not make the journey from New Zealand, but at the moment it looks much more promising that she will be able to come.
The Box Office closed to advance bookings on Monday 19th April with pre-sales at a record level. This does not necessarily mean we will have record crowds at the event, since lots of people, particularly on cross country day, just come and pay at the gate, but it certainly shows that interest is very high and many people, like us, are hugely looking forward to next weekend. There are still a few show jumping seats left which will go on sale again at the Box Office on the grounds during the event itself. We have to shut the Box Office 10 days before the start, simply in order to guarantee to get tickets to customers before the event starts – as it is, with the usual last minute rush, our small team lead by Carol Alexander will have had to print, collate, stuff envelopes and post tickets to nearly 2000 addresses this week.