RIO DE JANEIRO — Seven Olympic champions and nine out of the world's 10 top-ranked riders are in Rio de Janeiro for Latin America's most important equestrian event, which kicked off on Thursday.
The 6th edition of the Athina Onassis Horse Show drew stars including Switzerland's Steve Guerdat, who won the gold at this summer's Olympics in London, as well as Britain's Nick Skelton, who took the Olympic gold in the team competition. The United States' Laura Kraut, who won gold in Beijing in 2008, is also competing.
The show's namesake, Artistotle Onassis' granddaughter and heiress to his shipping fortune, will also compete, as will her husband, Brazilian rider Alvaro Miranda, and fellow Brazilian star Rodrigo Pessoa, who took Olympic gold in Athens in 2004.
Miranda, a Sao Paulo native who spearheaded the 2007 launch of the event, described this year's edition as technically the most challenging yet.
"We not only have the best riders, but this year we have the best horses," he told journalists at a news conference, adding that 92 horses were being flown in from Europe aboard special flights.
A total of 114 horses are to participate in the jumping events, which include a team competition between riders from eight of the 17 nationalities present, as well as the showcase Oi Grand Prix.
Miranda said the show marked an important milestone as Rio gears up to host the 2016 Olympics.
"I wanted to show people that we (Brazilians) could organize an event of this scale," he said. "Since just a little time has passed since this summer's games, I suspect this Olympic flame is still going to be alive in all of us this weekend."
Prize money at the five-star event, which runs at Rio's Sociedade Hipica Brasileira through Saturday, totals more than $1.7.
The Oi Grand Prix, which sees riders take on 1.3 meter (4-foot)-tall jumps, carries a $1.3 million prize, making it the best-remunerated equestrian event worldwide, according to the organizers.
Some 15,000 spectators daily are expected to fill the bleachers at the club, which backs onto the verdant Tijuca forest beneath Rio's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Ticket prices begin at $90.