As the New Albany Classic turns 20, its focus on family fun remains constant—as does organizers' commitment to end domestic violence.
When Julie Bachman first saw a flier for the New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix & Family Day 12 years ago, she decided to volunteer. The Capital University student had always been a horse person. But she had no idea she would soon fall in love with the event and would come back every year to lend a hand—even after moving to Chicago from Gahanna six years ago.
This year, as the Classic celebrates its 20th anniversary, organizers said attendees should expect the usual traditions as well as new family-friendly activities.
The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 24 at the home of Les and Abigail Wexner, 4584 Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road in New Albany. Tickets are $30 for adults, $7 for children ages 4-12 and free for ages 3 and younger. As always, there will be numerous family activities, including carnival rides, live entertainment and the Invitational Grand Prix, an international show-jumping competition featuring a combination of regional and Olympic riders and horses. The Grand Prix has been named the nation's top specialty equestrian event each year since 2012 by the North American Riders Group.
The Classic has been held at the Wexners' residence since 1998, when Abigail Wexner created the event to bring together her lifelong passion for horses and her desire to end family violence. Wexner is an avid rider but also owns decorated competition horses, including Authentic, who has won numerous honors including Olympic medals with rider Beezie Madden, and Simon, who, with Madden, won the Rolex/FEI World Cup in 2013.
Proceeds from the Classic benefit The Center for Family Safety and Healing, which works to end family violence through education, counseling and other services. Karen Days, president of the center, said she never imagined the Classic would be such a success, but is thankful for how the event has spread awareness about family violence while generating more than $30 million. “We have been able to make great strides with the money raised from the New Albany Classic,” Days said.
Event director Stephanie Lorenz also is proud of the way the fundraiser benefits the community. “The event elevates the work and the mission of the center,” Lorenz said. “The Classic brings awareness to the community so that families know all of these resources available to them.”
In its earliest years, the event drew about 3,500 attendees—a number that has grown to more than 15,000, Lorenz said. In planning the first Classic in 1998, no one knew how it was going to turn out, Days recalled. “But every year the bleachers still fill up,” she said. “People always look forward to this event.”
Lorenz said the engaging, kid-friendly programming from local partners is one of the main focal points. Each year includes a variety of performances from Columbus Children's Theatre and BalletMet, as well as experiences from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Columbus Crew SC, Columbus Clippers and Columbus Blue Jackets. COSI is a new addition and will provide interactive activities, Lorenz said, and a synthetic ice rink will give children a chance to skate. “There will be a Pirates, Princesses and Pumpkins experience courtesy of Feazel, which will include roaming storybook characters to interact with attendees throughout the day,” she added.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the tween-favorite Concert at the Classic, which has hosted rising stars ranging from Ariana Grande to Jordin Sparks and Kelsea Ballerini. The Jonas Brothers was the first act to perform at the Classic, and Nick Jonas will return to perform as a solo artist this year.
Another musical addition is a songwriting contest by the Columbus Songwriters Association. The winner, who will be chosen from about 55 entrants, will be announced Sept. 12 and will perform before Jonas takes the stage. “It's exciting that local people can get this opportunity to perform and to shine,” Lorenz said.
More than 450 volunteers like Bachman work to put on the New Albany Classic each year, many of whom are longtimers, Lorenz said. Bachman serves as a captain, overseeing several areas (including the gates) and managing other volunteers. She said she always looks forward to the family festival's positive energy and called it her favorite day of the year. “The Classic is such a unique and top-notch event that continues to get bigger and better each year,” she said. “You won't ever find anything quite like it.”