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Strutting their stuff at Tampa Equestrian Festival

TAMPA

In a clash of strength, will and skill, Olympic athletes and their powerful horses will battle for money and prestige in the 37th annual $200,000 American Invitational on April 4 under the lights of Raymond James Stadium. The Invitational is the dramatic finale of the three-week Tampa Equestrian Festival that opens today at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center at the state fairgrounds.

Headlining the event are world-class tournaments that include contests between feisty ponies and their tiny riders, teenage and adult amateur hunter/equitation riders and an international corps of grand prix show jumper equestrians whose steeds soar over fences higher than some SUVs.

The festival is over three weeks: the Suncoast Internationale, today through Sunday; the Tampa Classic, March 25-29, and the Tournament of Champions, March 31-April 4.

For the first time this year, the festival is the only location to qualify for the Invitational. The top money winners in the festival's three grand prix events will advance to one of this country's toughest tests of horse and rider and the largest purse for an outdoor competition. The festival also is the final qualifier for the World Cup April 15-19 in Las Vegas.

on the lookout for a local: Michael Morrissey of Brandon, a 23-year-old who will be competing in the festival, won the famous Puissance high jump with his horse by leaping 7½ feet over an obstacle at the Washington International Horse Show last fall.

FAST FACTS

Tampa Equestrian Festival

What: A three-week hunter/jumper horse show circuit featuring riders of all ages and horsemanship levels and their clever ponies and horses. When walking among the horses, watch out for those with the red ribbon on their tails — they kick.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today-Sunday, March 25-29 and March 31-April 4. Schedule highlights — March 26, 1 p.m., $35,000 Tampa Bay Welcome Stake; March 29, 2 p.m., $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa, a World Cup qualifier; April 1, 1 p.m., $35,000 Grand Prix of Florida, the final qualifier for American Invitational; April 4, 7 p.m., $200,000 American Invitational

Where: Preliminary events at Bob Thomas Equestrian Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4800 N U.S. 301, Tampa. Directions to fairgrounds: From Tampa or St. Petersburg/Clearwater via Interstate 275 to I-4 Eastbound, take Exit No. 6 for Orient Road and turn right off the ramp. There will be a sign for the fairgrounds entrance immediately on the left. Check in at the security guard gate for entry. The American Invitational is at Raymond James Stadium, 4201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa.

Admission: Free until American Invitational. Invitational tickets an be purchased through Ticketmaster at ticketmaster.com or by calling (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100. Advance tickets are $25, $35, $40. Day of $30, $40, $45. Advance family four-packs are $70, $125. Day of $85, $140. Advance tickets for groups of 20 or more are $17 and $30. For more on group rates, e-mail info@classic-communications.com or call (508) 698-6810.

Strutting their stuff at Tampa Equestrian Festival 03/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 6:44am]

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