The 40th edition of the “Super Bowl of Show Jumping” this weekend features array of the world’s best equestrians all vying to win the $200,000 Gene Mische American Invitational.
The Invitational takes place on Saturday night at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The American Invitational, year after year, offers up one of the most spectacular settings for show jumping, with a loud and enthusiastic audience and one of the most beautiful, yet toughest course of massive jumps, designed by Olympic Course Designer, Steve Stephens of Palmetto, Florida.
This year’s line-up is headlined by defending champion Kent Farrington and two-time Olympic Gold medalist Beezie Madden. Joining Madden and Farrington will be Olympic Gold medalist Laura Kraut and America’s winningest grand prix rider of all time, Margie Engle, with 197 career grand prix victories.
The future of American show jumping will be represented in great style as 17-year-old Reed Kessler is scheduled to compete on Saturday night as well. Kessler, just a week ago in Wellington, Florida, topped the list of riders emerging from the U.S. Olympic Selection Trials for the London Olympic Games, and she and Margie Engle tied for the top spot in the hard fought US National Show Jumping Championship that same week.
In what should be a fascinating match-up, Kessler will be competing against her veteran trainer, Katie Prudent, who if she can pull off the win on Saturday night, will become the first ever four-time winner of the American Invitational. Prudent rode to victory in Tampa in 1983, 1985 and again in 1988.
Speaking of youth, Nicholas Dello Joio joins the competition on Saturday and will try to follow in his famous father’s footsteps. Norman Dello Joio, an Olympic Bronze medalist, has scored two American Invitational victories during his career, in 1978 and again in 2004.
The youth movement also includes North American Young Rider Individual Gold Medalist Katie Dinan, a two-time winner at the Winter Equestrian Festival this season.
Madden will try to add her name to the trophy for a third time, having led the victory gallop in 2005 and 2007. On the other hand, her Hong Kong Gold Medal teammate, Laura Kraut, with an amazing record of 94 career grand prix wins all over the world, is still searching for her first win at Raymond James Stadium.
Kent Farrington, meanwhile, will try to become only the third rider in the 40 year history of the event to win in back to back years. That was done once early in 1974 and 1975 when Michelle McEvoy (Grubb) won two years in a row and then again in 2001 and 2002 when Molly Ashe-Cawley duplicated the difficult feat. Ashe-Cawley will be in the line-up on Saturday night, trying to become one of those rare three-time winners.
1984 American Invitational champion, Olympian Leslie Howard will be making a Tampa appearance on Saturday night, and she’ll be joined by top veteran Mario Deslauriers, a Canadian Olympic veteran, who is now a US citizen and has competed successfully for the United States at the World Equestrian Games and on the Super League tour in Europe.
Venezuela Olympian Pablo Barrios headlines a list of foreign riders that include Angela Covert-Lawrence of Canada, Paulo Santana of Brazil, Tina Fletcher of Great Britain, Darragh Kerins, Kevin Babington and Darragh Kenny of Ireland and Maria Hecart of France.
Also scheduled to compete on Saturday night are Candice King, Jimmy Torano, Callan Solem, Aaron Vale, Megan Edrick, Charlie Jacobs, Catherine Pasmore, Cara Raether, Charlie Jayne and California’s Richard Spooner.
Before the show, the Mane Event will take place in Parking Lot #5, beginning at 2:30 p.m. with the Just World Horseless Horse Show. And there’s also the Tampa Bay Bucks Mechanical Bull-Riding Championship.
Gates open 6pm and as always, the public will be invited on to the floor of Raymond James Stadium for the traditional American Invitational course walk. The event will also include the Parade of Champions and the Parade of Breeds and the exciting half-time entertainment includes the Show Jumping Hall of Fame induction ceremony and a high voltage performance by Equine Extremist Tommie Turvey.