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LIGHTNING PHOTOS: Thousands turn out for opening of horse center

People celebrate American Pharoah's Triple Crown win at the Tryon Equestrian Center. People celebrate American Pharoah's Triple Crown win at the Tryon Equestrian Center.

Well, they couldn’t have planned that any better.


Amid a set by Lee Greenwood, an appearance by the governor, skydivers and a craft beer festival to celebrate its grand opening, the Tryon International Equestrian Center took a break to watch TV. The capacity crowd watched history made on the Jumbotron when American Pharaoh won the Belmont Stakes and became the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
Mark Bellissimo, the managing partner of the sprawling 1,500-acre facility of horse rings, arenas and cabins, said in a news conference that the reception he and other investors got when they first announced their plans inspired him to go bigger and faster than he’d planned.
“So instead of spending 20 or 30 million dollars as (investor) Roger (Smith) had joked, we’re probably upwards of 80, 90 100 million dollars of private equity investment,” he said. “And it’s what drives this country is entrepreneurship and living in an environment that allows commercial enterprise to try and political forces help that. I hope this is a great opportunity for this community to reinvent itself or reenergize itself. I’ve had so many people come up to me and thank us as a partnership. I have never been more pleased with a private investment than I have been here in terms of how appreciative people are.”
Gov. Pat McCrory raced from the state Republican Party convention in Raleigh to Tryon, only to be caught in the same mile-long line of cars trying to get the complex in the once sleepy community of Pea Ridge in eastern Polk County.
“I’m officially declaring that Mark Bellissimo is governor of the day in North Carolina,” he said. “He’s talking a language that makes our country great and makes our state great. I love to be around people who have a vision and a strategy and a plan to implement it.”

Bellissimo estimated the grand opening attracted 10,000 to 12,000 people. The craft beer festival sold out its limit of 450 people. The 4,000-seat stadium was full and thousands more strolled around the grounds.
Fans in the stadium cheered American Pharaoh on to victory in the race that clinched the first Triple Crown in a generation. They made a little history of their own. They were present for the official opening of the biggest thing to happen here in a long time.