Showjumping meets showbiz in Vegas

Story highlights

  • Horses complete transatlantic trip to Las Vegas in 'business class' luxury
  • 80,000 fans expected as organizers spend $8m bringing horses back to Vegas
  • Celebrity chefs and legends of sport will mix with top jumping and dressage riders
  • World Cup Final trophies to be won -- some of the most prestigious in the sport

(CNN)They are superstars flown in from across the globe -- and they probably had more legroom than you.

The world's leading showjumping and dressage horses have reached Las Vegas for this week's World Cup Finals.
The man who arranged their travel says, for horses, it's business class all the way.
    "There are two horses per box," explains Tim Dutta, who oversaw the loading of more than $150 million in equine talent onto a Qatar Airways flight at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport earlier this month.
    "We pay attention to each horse's little idiosyncrasies and requirements -- do they like wet hay, or not? Do we use sea salt to encourage them to drink?
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    "I like the horses to have some quiet time too, they need that. So when the aircraft is at cruise then they are left alone for a while, to have a snooze and relax, without being bothered by anyone."
    No horse is snoozing now. The flights are over and they're in Las Vegas to work.
    Vegas is home to the finals for the sixth time since first hosting showjumping in 2000.
    The venue is the Thomas & Mack Center, a stone's throw from the Strip, which had the distinction of being opened by Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross in 1983.
    Organizers believe more than 80,000 fans will attend this week's event, which boasts an $8 million budget.
    Expect Elvis Presley beaming down from the Jumbotron; chefs from the Bellagio serving VIP guests who paid upwards of $1,500 a ticket; and tennis legend Steffi Graf presenting the trophies.
    In the past, that was not your usual showjumping and dressage atmosphere -- but that's something the sport is trying to change.
    Hosting world-class horsesport in Vegas is a way to raise its profile in the United States. As with this month's showjumping on Miami Beach, the thinking is location, location, location.
    This is the sixth time showjumping has returned to Vegas.
    For the riders, few locations are comparable.
    "It's like a Wrigley Field feel," said Tim Keener, one of the Vegas organizers, describing how the bowl of the arena will seat spectators unusually close to the action.
    Showjumping comes here for the showbiz. In previous years, trophies have been handed out by flying showgirls descending from the rafters. Elvis impersonators have burst into the arena on horseback.
    This year, a "selfie booth" will let fans crowd in with leading riders for awkward photos on their phones -- and there will be quite some choice of riders.
    Since the World Cup Finals are among the most prestigious titles available, the cast list over the next four days features almost all of the world's top names.
    In showjumping, Germany's Daniel Deusser is both the defending World Cup champion and the new world No. 1, unseating Britain's Scott Brash.
    The Germans are the most successful nation at the World Cup Finals, with 10 showjumping victories, and three-time champion Marcus Ehning will also compete.
    The hosts have a superstar and 2013 champion in Beezie Madden, while 2012 champion Rich Fellers will ride aptly named "comeback king" Flexible, a horse undeterred by a series of illnesses and injuries which would have seen almost any other stallion retire.
    In dressage, Britain's Charlotte Dujardin and Valero are the runaway favorites to successfully defend last year's World Cup title.
    The partnership is the first ever to hold the World Cup alongside Olympic, world and European gold.
    Few riders are expected to mount a serious challenge if Dujardin and Valegro perform well, but watch out for Germany's Isabell Werth and up-and-coming US rider Laura Graves.
    Graves, 27, has barely spent a year on the U.S. senior team, yet finished fifth in last year's World Equestrian Games on board Verdades.
    The action begins on Thursday, April 16, with dressage reaching a climax on the Saturday and showjumping a day later.
    But if you miss it, the chances are you won't have to wait long for another chance.
    Vegas is so in love with horses, organizers are already planning a bid to bring the event back in 2019.