Equestrian center kickoff

Wanda Smith, center, executive director of the California Equestrian Park and Event Center, or CEPEC, attends the kickoff fundraiser for the organization’s $200 million riding-venue project Thursday with, from left, Jackie Sahud, Edward Crump, Kenneth Rupel and Kevin Zucco. (Photo by ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

Wanda Smith, center, executive director of the California Equestrian Park and Event Center, or CEPEC, attends the kickoff fundraiser for the organization’s $200 million riding-venue project Thursday with, from left, Jackie Sahud, Edward Crump, Kenneth Rupel and Kevin Zucco. (Photo by ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

Horse lovers hoping Sonoma County one day will become home to a world-class riding venue turned out in force Thursday to learn more about and support the ambitious effort.

The event at the Draper Stables Reception Hall on Irwin Lane in west Santa Rosa drew about 60 people and marked the official start of the capital campaign to build the California Equestrian Park & Event Center northwest of Petaluma.

The project, in the planning stages for about three years, now moves to that crucial phase of raising the funds needed to acquire the land and build the $200 million facility.

“I can’t make it happen,” said Wanda Smith, the leader of the effort. “We’re all going to have to hold hands and join resources to make it happen.”

The event featured display boards describing the exhibition arenas, stables, trails, museum and other amenities expected to be included in the center, as well as silent and live auctions of items including Sonoma County wines, Smith said.

“I think it was the best event we’ve ever had,” Smith said. “It was a quality crowd and we got some referrals.”

The organization originally was focused on acquiring a 1,200-acre area west of Cotati on Roblar Road, but that is just one of several options, Smith said. A total of four sites are being explored, each with more than 1,000 acres, in the same general area, she said.

Construction could begin as early as 2016.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Smith said.

(See more photos from the kickoff event)