China will waste at least half of its 2008 Games equestrian places because the discipline is proving too expensive for mainland showjumping hopefuls, a top official revealed yesterday. With an end-of-the-month deadline for riders looming, only two riders out of an available six places have secured the financial backing and quality horses needed to enter the qualifying rounds - putting hopes of a first Olympic showing in the discipline in jeopardy. 'We are keen to rewrite the record books but it seems time is running out for most Chinese Olympic hopefuls to get things right,' Cheng Qing, secretary of the China Equestrian Association, said last night. Potential riders and horses must pass the high qualifying standards and complete the paperwork laid down by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), the governing body by December 31. As hosts, China have been awarded a total of six berths in the Olympic equestrian tournament that takes place in Hong Kong - and were also offered minimum qualification requirements for each entrant. But with the price of an Olympic-standard horse ranging from hundreds of thousands of US dollars to more than US$1 million, only two riders, Hua Tian, a Beijing-based British-Chinese teenage rider, and Xinjiang horsewoman Liu Lina, have found the horses and backers needed to just take part in the on-going qualifying rounds, which will end in June. Hua has secured his mount in eventing after a well-publicised fund-raising campaign, collecting more than 30 million yuan. Liu also managed to find a private backer for her attempt to make the cut in the dressage qualifiers. However, both riders have had the qualifying bar set lower than other international competitors. It was hoped a third Chinese rider would be joining them. Zhang Bin, 34, is the mainland's undisputed number-one showjumper and won gold at the 2005 National Games. He is training in Germany under former Seoul 1988 Olympics jumping bronze medallist Karsten Huck on a horse rented from a German owner. With just 20 days left, time is running out for him to find a compatriot to back him so as to abide by a FEI rule that stipulates that the rider would not be eligible for an Olympic tournament unless the rider's horse was either partly or wholly owned by a compatriot. 'I have been trying hard in the past 12 months to find a Chinese national patron who is willing to buy at least part of the ownership of the mount,' said Zhang. 'I would say it would now take a miracle for China to be able to enter three riders in Hong Kong next August,' said Chen.