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Aug 31, 2011 8:10 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Hampton Classic Team Pulls Together For Belated Opening Day

Aug 31, 2011 8:10 PM

As the clock struck 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Shane Sweetnam and his mount, Rolette, successfully cleared the first gate in the Wolffer Estate Open Jumper Competition to open the 36th annual Hampton Classic Horse Show. Although it lacked the fanfare of typical opening days, it took a gargantuan effort from many to assure that the show went on at all.

The Classic opened three days after Hurricane Irene ripped through Long Island. High winds and rain not only brought down trees, tree limbs and power lines, but also caused Classic officials to delay the event’s 2011 debut and to cram eight days of competition into just five. Not only that, its crew as well as some reinforcements played beat the clock, tearing down the tents and stables to avoid damage from the hurricane, and then rebuilding it in time for Wednesday’s competition.

The way the grounds appeared Wednesday, it appeared as though Irene, who left more than 500,000 Long Island residents without power, was barely a slight breeze on Snake Hollow Road in Bridgehampton.

“I can’t even put into words what it was like watching everyone pitching in,” said Executive Director Shanette Barth Cohen. “We had the same rubble that everyone had in their yards, branches and leafs and twigs everywhere. Simultaneous to the tent crews putting up the tents, those of us without that skill set were raking and picking up branches … It’s really incredible. I’m so honored to work with all the people who work on the show grounds.”

At 5 a.m. Monday, Cohen met with event coordinators Liz Soroka and Craig Bergmann, site manager Dave Dimijian, representatives from Frontier Tents on Classic grounds, and several others to assess the damage. After setting a list of priorities for what they called “the Monday Miracle,” Bergmann and crews began reconstructing the tents and stables, while dozens of others, no matter their titles, cleared the debris from the premises.

Cohen never expected heavy raking to make her to-do list, but it did because it had to.

“Everyone pitched in,” Cohen said. “[Director of Media Services and Operations Marty Bauman] was there with a rake, one of our associate secretaries was driving a forklift. Everyone who works for the show, regardless of what their normal job is, if they were here in town before the storm hit, they were here helping with the teardown, the cleanup and the rebuild.”

Power, phones and internet cut out late Sunday but were restored by Tuesday morning. Odds and ends still needed tending to Wednesday, such as roadside banners in a few locations. Even amid the boutique garden, a man operated a table saw to fortify support for the center shops. Still, the effects of the hurricane were barely noticeable.

Traffic on the grounds was light for the new opening day. What’s ordinarily “local day,” in which local riders from ages 2 to adult come to compete, is ordinarily a financial boom for the Classic, between fan attendance, rider registration and merchandise sales. That wasn’t so with the Wednesday start. Cohen said a number of riders canceled due to scheduling conflicts. Additionally, VIP tables for the opening Sunday, which are sold separately from the tables the rest of the week, couldn’t be sold at all. Per Cohen, Opening Day is “usually the biggest day” for souvenir sales.

With the hurricane coming, the Classic brought in added labor for the teardown and rebuild, and it had to lodge the workers also. A non-profit, the Classic normally sees the week’s revenue rival its expenses, but Cohen expects profits to be minimal.

“From a pure numbers standpoint, this is going to be very costly for the Hampton Classic,” she said.

The Classic ordinarily has some reserves with which to work. Of that money, Cohen said, “I don’t know if we’re wiping that out or not, it’s too soon to tell. Hopefully not.”

The Classic plans to make a donation to Southampton Hospital, something it’s done since the first horse show in 1975. Its 35 previous shows have allowed the Classic to give approximately $1.7 million to the hospital. Cohen did admit, however, that this year’s gift would likely be less than past contributions, including the $100,000 donated last year.

“We give based on what we can give,” said Cohen, the Classic’s executive director since 2006.

Numerous events originally scheduled for Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, were slotted elsewhere in the week. All but two, the Nicolock Time Challenge and ASPCA Adoption Day, were successfully rescheduled. Instead of Adoption Day, the Classic will hold Virtual Pet Adoption Month on its website. Nicolock has been named the title sponsor for Saturday’s Open Jumper Challenge.

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