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Springsteen, the dad, shows up near Tampa

Published April 4, 2004

TAMPA - Early Saturday morning, Bruce Springsteen sat alone watching a horse jumping competition, one of no more than a dozen people in the darkened Charlie Lykes Arena bleachers at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

It's quite a change from Nov. 24, 2002, when Springsteen was last seen in Tampa. That night he could be found under a spotlight at the St. Pete Times Forum, working his way through a nearly three-hour, sweat-drenched set in front of packed house of 19,644.

This time around, Springsteen was in the role of father instead of rock star. His 11-year-old daughter, Jessica, was competing in the equestrian Tournament of Champions, and he was here just being a dad.

Even if you were looking for him, the 54-year-old musician was hard to spot. Wearing jeans, jacket and baseball cap, he blended in with the other horse show parents.

"He always does," said Winter Equestrian Festival spokesman Mason Phelps Jr. "(The Springsteens) float around here like regular people."

Bruce's wife and E Street Band member Patti Scialfa - also Jessica's mom - was at the horse show Saturday, as well. On Friday, Bruce had been spotted at the fairgrounds, cruising around in a golf cart with one of their two sons.

Offstage, Springsteen is known for guarding his family's privacy. He didn't care to chat with a reporter on Saturday morning.

"I'm just here with my daughter," he said as he walked toward the barn area a few minutes before Jessica rode in the Large Pony Hunter class.

Saturday was the final day of Tournament of Champions, a two-week event that wraps up the Winter Equestrian Festival circuit. Phelps said Jessica has been competing every weekend on the circuit since its start in late January.

Last year, she competed in a handful of events on the circuit, Phelps said.

"She was a champion a couple times," he added, meaning she earned the most points in her division over the week.

Phelps said he didn't know if the Springsteens were commuting to Florida on the weekends from their New Jersey home, or if Jessica was here for the season and using the circuit's tutoring service.

Regardless, she was a winner again on Saturday morning. She finished first in her class, riding Liseter Clever Star. And the horse was circuit champion of the division, meaning Jessica could accompany it to the world-class horse competition Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium to pick up the award.

Maybe she was born to ride.

[Last modified April 4, 2004, 01:05:44]

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