TAMPA — The thundering sound of hooves pounding the turf and whacking fence rails will rock Raymond James Stadium Saturday night as horse and rider teams race against the clock for money and prestige in this country's premier outdoor show jumping event.
The winner of the 37th annual $200,000 American Invitational takes home $60,000.
McLain Ward, on the gold-medal winning 2008 Beijing Olympics show jumping team with Beezie Madden, Laura Kraut and Will Simpson, returns to defend his title.
Ward, who also won the Invitational in 1998, will be among the 35 international athletes and their powerful equine partners to tackle Steve Stephens' colorful but daunting course of high and wide obstacles geared to test skill, speed and accuracy.
Other top riders in the lineup include Madden, a 2005 and 2007 winner of the Invitational; Florida native Margie Engle, the only 10-time winner of the American Grandprix Association's rider of the year title; Chris Kappler, a 1995 and 2003 Invitational winner; Leslie Howard, a 1984 winner; Debbie Stephens of Palmetto, a 1993 winner; and Todd Minikus, who used to ride bulls for fun, a 1997 winner.
Also scheduled to compete is Hillary Dobbs. Her father, the anchor and managing editor of Lou Dobbs Tonight, usually makes it to the Invitational.
Georgina Bloomberg, whose father Michael is mayor of New York City, usually has her dad among the crowd cheering for her.
Jimmy and Danielle Torano, a husband and wife team from Fort Lauderdale, are also among the competitors.
Nations represented include a large U.S. contingent and riders from Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Turkey, Ireland, Venezuela, Colombia, Britain and Hungary.
The top 12 riders earn prize money, from $44,000 and $26,000 for second and third place, respectively, to $4,000 for 10th, 11th and 12th.