Eric Lamaze on solid footing with Fine Lady
Fine Lady is in fine form, so much so that Eric Lamaze wishes the world equestrian games were sooner rather than later.
The "fantastic little mare" and Lamaze, who combined for an Olympic show jumping bronze two years ago, have been winning big at Calgary's Spruce Meadows.
"She's in top form coming out of here," Lamaze said. "I really wish the world championship was in three weeks after this because she sure is ready."
The duo has won almost $216,000 in prize money so far this year in the Spruce Meadows Summer Series of tournaments.
Their most recent victory was a 1.55-metre class Thursday when the combo twice rode clean without a knockdown, including a jump-off against four other pairings in the international ring.
The world equestrian games, or WEG, are Sept. 10-23 in Tryon, N.C.
Going for a win
"I will not go to WEG unless I feel I can win a medal for Canada and have my team win a medal," Lamaze said.
"I've been around to these championships long enough to know what it takes and if I have what it takes at that time, we're going to go for a win."
In order to have what it takes, the 50-year-old from Schomberg, Ont., has to manage Fine Lady's competition schedule carefully this summer.
Lamaze, who now splits his home base between Belgium and Florida, is the all-time leader in prize money won at Spruce Meadows at over $3 million.
He's currently No. 4 among riders in the FEI's world rankings based on his results with Fine Lady and other horses.
Lamaze considers Calgary's equestrian venue crucial to preparing horses for major international events and says Spruce Meadows helped him develop Fine Lady for the 2016 Summer Games.
But Lamaze says he won't bring the 15-year-old bay mare back for the Masters tournament Sept. 5-9 on the eve of the world championship.
"That's too close," Lamaze said. "That would not be a place for her. I know her. I'll try to figure it out and come up with the best plan."
It was Lamaze's astute management of Fine Lady that turned an unheralded horse unseasoned in 1.60-metre jumps into an Olympic contender in Rio. She had been used primarily in speed classes with lower jumps.
But Lamaze and Fine Lady did not put a rail down in team or individual competition in Rio until the final fence in a jump-off for individual gold.
Fine Lady's speed helped them beat out others with four faults for a spot on the podium.
"Since Rio, believe it or not, she's no longer a 1.5 [metre] or 1.4 horse, she's a 1.6 horse," Lamaze said. "She can do any metre 60 class around the world.
"She's a horse for a big event. She's proved it in Rio."
Comparisons to Hickstead
Fine Lady is co-owned by Artisan Farms and Lamaze's Torrey Pines Stable.
Lamaze claimed Olympic gold and helped Canada take team silver riding Hickstead in 2008.
Lamaze and Hickstead kept piling up wins after that en route to Lamaze becoming the No.1-ranked rider in the world. Hickstead was named the world's top horse at the 2010 world championship in Lexington, Ky.
Lamaze once joked Hickstead's name should be "ATM" given the number of lucrative Grand Prix they were winning. But Hickstead died suddenly of an aortic rupture Nov. 6, 2011 during competition in Verona, Italy.
Horses are as individual as people, so comparing Fine Lady to Hickstead is an apples-and-oranges exercise, Lamaze said
"Nobody will be Hickstead. I have a painting at home in my house in Belgium of everything he's won in his life," Lamaze "She is working up her shoes to match him I've got to tell you.
"To compare to Hickstead is a big thing. I'm not prepared to do that, but she is one of the best horses in the world today."