Winter Equestrian Festival

Published March 20, 2005

WHAT: The Tampa leg of the $3-million, nine-week showcase, featuring an international lineup of veteran Olympic and grand prix riders.

WHEN: Opens Wednesday at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center on the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa; continues through March 27, reopens March 29 and continues through April 2. Hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WHERE: All events except the Invitational are at the fairgrounds. Take Interstate 275 or I-75 to I-4. Take Exit 5 to Orient Road. Follow signs to parking and equestrian center.

BUDWEISER AMERICAN INVITATIONAL: The premier competition of the festival. With a purse of $200,000, it is considered the preeminent grand prix show-jumping event in the United States. It starts at 7 p.m. April 2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The 30 competing riders include the defending champion, members of the 2004 Olympic silver-medal show-jumping team and the top four riders in the American Grandprix Association rider of the year standings.

OTHER EVENTS: Children, teenagers and adults with their ponies and horses in hunter, jumper, equitation and grand prix show-jumping classes daily in four arenas. The grand prix show-jumping events feature renowned riders from the United States, Canada and Europe. ... Grand prix competitions include a $25,000 WEF Challenge Cup at 1 p.m. Thursday, the $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa at 2 p.m. March 27 and the $30,000 Ariat Challenge Cup at 1 p.m. March 30. ... The WEF Challenge Cup and the Grand Prix of Tampa are the final money qualifiers for the Invitational. The Ariat Challenge Cup and the Grand Prix of Tampa are final qualifying classes for the East Coast team list for the World Cup April 20-24 in Las Vegas.

CELEBRITIES: Festival-goers could bump into rock star Bruce Springsteen with his daughter, Jessica, who competes in the children's jumper 13 and under and has been a consistent winner this season with her mount Presto. Actor Glenn Close's daughter, Annie Starke, 16, is also a WEF competitor.

TOP COMPETITORS: Laura Kraut of Oconomowoc, Wis., is the leading rider of this season's Winter Equestrian Festival that runs seven weeks on the east coast in Wellington before moving to Tampa for the final two weeks. Kraut, 39, has won two of the tour's big-money grand prix show-jumping classes and a handful of other competitions. ... Ramiro Quintana of Argentina moved up the list in rider standings March 13 when he and his mount, Hurricane I, captured the $100,000 Open Jumper Championship. The win assured him a berth on the Invitational lineup. ... Close behind Quintana in top dollar wins are veteran riders Laura Chapot and Anne Kursinski, both of New Jersey. Also a shoo-in for the Invitational is Margie Goldstein Engle, a Florida native and eight-time American Grandprix Association rider of the year. She is back in competition after a serious leg injury last year when a horse fell on her. ... Canadians Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze, Markus Beerbaum of Germany, Ellen Whitaker of Britain and Kevin Babington of Ireland are among the festival's winning riders in secure positions for the Invitational.

ADMISSION/TICKETS: Free admission on opening day and March 29. Adults $5 on other weekdays, $10 Saturdays and $15 on Sunday. Seniors (65 and older), students and children 12 and older, $5 every day. Children 11 and younger admitted free. ... Advance tickets to the Invitational are $25, $35 and $65 for a family four-pack. The day of the event, tickets are $30, $40 and $75 for a family four-pack. For advance tickets, call Stadium Jumping at (813) 253-2782 or toll-free at 1-877-909-9436 or Ticketmaster at (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100. Advance tickets also can be ordered at Ticketmaster.com.