The four-day, six-round U.S. Show Jumping Olympic trials begin today at Del Mar with 12 California riders among the 42 qualified for a shot at this summer's Olympic Games.
Horses and riders will fly over five-feet-high, six-feet-wide jumps today beginning at 7:30 p.m. There will be two sessions at Del Mar on Saturday -- 1 and 7:30 p.m. -- before the competition finishes with two days of riding May 22-23 at Oaks Blenheim Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano.
Four horse-rider pairings will be named to the U.S. Olympic team. The top two trial finishers are guaranteed selection. The United States Equestrian Federation has the discretion to select teams other than those finishing third and fourth if there is a unanimous vote.
One of the spots is already committed to Chris Kappler of Flemington, N.J., and his horse, Royal Kaliber. Kappler anchored the gold-medal U.S. team at last year's Pan American Games.
Kappler, 37, petitioned for a bye, saying he wanted to spare his horse the cross-country travel and, based on a stellar 2003 season, the federation gave it to him.
Among the competitors will be four-time Olympian Anne Kursinski, who will be riding three horses at the trials.
The top California contender is Richard Spooner of Burbank. Spooner, who began his riding career at the Huntington Beach Equestrian Center, is ranked No. 4 in the U.S. and in 2003 was the Pacific Coast Horse Assn.'s grand prix rider of the year.