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Tampa hosts Grand Prix today

A field of 60 international show-jumper riders from the United States and countries such as Norway, Saudi Arabia, France and Germany will compete in today's $75,000 Grand Prix of Tampa at the state fairgrounds.

The competition, which starts at 2 p.m. in the grand prix field at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center, is an important class.

It's the final qualifier for this country's most prestigious event, Saturday's $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational at Raymond James Stadium.

It also is a preliminary competition for riders hoping to be among the seven-member East Coast League team that will compete in the World Cup May 1-5 in Leipzig, Germany.

The three-member West Coast League team has been selected: Californians Richard Spooner, Ray Texel and Will Simpson.

Among the top American riders competing today: Norman Dello Joio, Nona Garson, Anne Kursinski, Joe Fargis, Margie Goldstein-Engle, McLain Ward, Chris Kappler, Debbie Stephens, Mark Leone, Alison Firestone and Todd Minikus.

The winner takes home $22,500.

While riders are not checked for drugs, each horse must pass a veterinary inspection before the event.

Then as they come off the course, some horses will be led away for drug testing.

The testing is done by representatives of USA Equestrian, the regulatory body for Olympic and world championship equestrian.

"It's random and very quiet," said Dr. J. Allen Leslie, the International Equestrian Federation's veterinarian delegate to grand prix events at the fairgrounds. "Even myself I will not know when and who will be tested."

Six to 12 horses are usually tested, he said.

No drugs or medications are allowed.

Penalties for positive tests include fines and bans from competition.

The last grand prix event before Saturday's Invitational is Thursday.

The $30,000 Ariat Challenge Cup is another preliminary competition for the World Cup. For information, call (813) 253-2782.

Grand Prix of Tampa

2 p.m. today, fairgrounds, Tampa. The final qualifier for the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational, the nation's premier equestrian event, which is Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. To get to the fairgrounds from Pinellas County, take I-275 north to I-4. Take Exit 5 to Orient Road. Follow the signs to parking and equestrian center. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, age 65 and older. Children 12 and younger get in free.