A major horse-jumping competition is set to make a third stop in Omaha in what organizers say could be a trial run for a chance at hosting one of the sport's biggest international events.
The International, a two-day contest that last year featured about 140 riders from several countries, will return to the CenturyLink Center on April 11 and 12.
That's just a few weeks before a group of local sports and equestrian officials will head to Switzerland to make a pitch for Omaha to the Fédération Equestre Internationale. The organization has named Omaha as one of four finalist cities that could host its 2017 World Cup Finals. (Also in the running: London, Hong Kong and the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch.)
Lisa Roskens, board president of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, said Omaha's position as a World Cup finalist has prompted equestrian enthusiasts from all over the world to take note. As a result, she expects this year's International competition will attract more top riders from several countries.
Last year, the event featured riders from the United States and Canada as well as competitors from Europe and South America.
“We expect to see a significantly larger number of international-level competitors,” she said.
More than 8,000 people bought tickets to last year's event in Omaha, and 17,000 turned up for a free educational expo.
Roskens said this year's International will feature some new additions.
Organizers have hired Great Big Events, the Australian company behind all the flash — pyrotechnics, video presentations, a moving medals podium — at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha in 2008 and 2012.
Given that this event features horses, there won't be any big explosions. But Roskens said there should be plenty of other ways to impress the crowds.
“No pyrotechnics, but we'll have a cool show,” she said. “There will be a totally different opening act and a bunch of new exhibits in our educational expo.”
Roskens said she's hoping ticket sales will top 10,000. She said a good turnout could be critical to impress FEI officials, including some who are expected to turn up to see Omaha and the CenturyLink Center for themselves.
The World Cup would bring a much larger crowd than the International. That competition would run for four days, with an estimated attendance of 80,000.
Roskens said she's not sure if representatives from all four finalist countries have been invited to Switzerland. But she said it appears to be a good sign for the city's bid.
“They don't want to waste their time on someone they're not seriously considering,” she said.
The FEI is expected to announce its decision in June.