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By Mark Pavilons
Schomberg's top show jumping champion has chalked up back-to-back impressive wins in European competitions in recent weeks.
One week following his stunning win in the €200,000 Grand Prix of La Baule, France, Canadian Olympic show jumping champion Eric Lamaze made it two in a row by claiming the €200,000 Grand Prix of Rome, Italy, on Sunday, May 25.
When Lamaze won the €200,000 Grand Prix of La Baule, France on May 18 riding Powerplay, it marked his first five-star victory since his partnership with Hickstead.
The former Schomberg resident has done it again, claiming the €200,000 Grand Prix of Rome with Zigali P S.
In an incredible twist of fate, Lamaze also won the Grand Prix of La Baule and the Grand Prix of Rome back-to-back in 2011 with Hickstead, just months before the great stallion's tragic death.
“After La Baule, everyone was saying that Zigali would win in Rome but I didn't think it was possible; it's so hard to win these grand prix events, especially with two different horses,” said Lamaze. “Winning in La Baule gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week but, when you're on another horse, it's quite different.”
Having used Zigali P S as a second horse to Powerplay in European competition this spring, Lamaze decided it was time for Zigali P S to step into the spotlight for the €200,000 Grand Prix of Rome. Fifty of the world's top-ranked riders started the event in the hopes of winning with 13 advancing to the all-deciding second round. When Lamaze entered the arena, he was chasing the time of 42.26 seconds set by Dutchman Frank Schuttert.
Demonstrating yet again why he was crowned the Olympic champion, Lamaze shaved almost a full second off the leading time, stopping the timers in 41.29 seconds. Next in, British legend Michael Whitaker came within fractions of catching Lamaze but, in the end, his time of 41.31 seconds with Viking would only prove good enough for second place.
“Zigali is a super-fast horse, he can leave strides out and can keep his jump,” said Lamaze in praise of the 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Kigali x STB-H Palfrenier) purchased by Carlene and Andy Ziegler's Artisan Farms last November.
Lamaze and Zigali P S had opened the four-day show jumping tournament in Rome May 22 with a win in the €24,000 1.50m Premio 3.
“Zigali won the first day, and then he wins again today,” said an astonished Lamaze. “It's incredible! The first class he wins from 64 starters, and then he wins this one, too! For Zigali to come to Rome, a five-star event, and to compete in two classes and to win both, and for me to win my first five-star grand prix with him, is unbelievable!”
Following the death of Hickstead, Lamaze continued on with a heavy heart, competing for the fifth-placed Canadian Team at the 2012 London Olympics before taking a step back from the sport. Following a rebuilding phase, he is now back at the top of his game, winning two of the most prestigious grand prix events in the world.
“The faith I had in these horses is paying off,” said Lamaze. “We are really clicking; everything is coming together between myself and the horses. I've spent time really getting to know them, and the moment has come now. Yes, I won these two events before with Hickstead, but to do it again now with two different horses really shows the depth of horses that we have. With the Ziegler family behind us purchasing these great horses, I can't help but to feel like we're back in the sport.”
In addition to opening the four-day show jumping tournament in Rome with a win in the €24,000 1.50m Premio 3 riding Zigali P S, Lamaze made another trip to the winner's circle on Saturday after winning the €5,000 1.40m Land Rover Premio 7 riding Cesanna. In his competition debut with the newly-acquired Fine Lady 5, Lamaze was double clear to place fourth in the €24,000 1.50m Premio 5 for owners Artisan Farms.
At CSIO5* Rome, Lamaze competed alongside fellow Canadian Tiffany Foster of Schomberg. Lamaze and Foster are both based full-time with Artisan Farms in Vrasene, Belgium, and Wellington, Florida.
Victory in Baule
Lamaze rode Powerplay to victory in the €200,000 Grand Prix of La Baule on May 18, in France.
It was an extremely emotional win for Lamaze, who won the CSIO5* La Baule event, the highest ranking on the international show jumping calendar, on one other occasion in his career, in 2011 with the magnificent Hickstead.
“This is the first five-star grand prix that I've won since Hickstead,” said Lamaze, who was smiling from ear to ear as tears rolled down his cheeks. “It is super exciting to win this grand prix. It's a grand prix that I've won before; I know what it feels like to win in La Baule!”
He raced through the timers in 35.83 seconds to easily eclipse the time of 37.53 set by Abdelkebir Ouaddar of Morocco riding Quickly de Kreisker. France's own Patrice Delaveau placed third with a time of 37.60 seconds with Carinjo HDC.
Powerplay stepped into big shoes by claiming the La Baule victory. Acquired by Artisan Farms LLC last spring from Switzerland's Pius Schwizer, Lamaze has been riding the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Casall x Limbus) for almost one full year.
“I've never asked Powerplay to do something like this and to go so fast,” explained Lamaze, who in a spur of the moment display of delight, leapt off the podium during the awards presentation to spray the supportive audience with celebratory champagne. “Last year was a learning year with the horse. I've really taken my time with him and been respectful of how careful he is. He's not a super-fast horse, but sometimes when you get to know a horse, you know when you can take risks.
“Today, it felt like it was time to be competitive. It felt like the time was right for me to ask him to do this.”
La Baule marked the third five-star grand prix in a row that Powerplay has jumped clear, having placed sixth in the €300,000 CSI5* Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Antwerp, Belgium, with one time fault and been clear in the opening round of the €300,000 CSI5* Global Champions Tour Grand Prix two weeks ago in Madrid, Spain.
Earlier in the day, Foster was double clear to place fifth in the €24,000 1.45m Prix Laiterie De Montaigu riding Melody des Hayettes Z and, on Thursday, placed sixth behind Lamaze and Zigali P S in the €27,500 Prix du Conseil Général with Victor. Lamaze and Foster are both based full-time with Artisan Farms in Vrasene, Belgium, and Wellington, Florida.
Lamaze's main focus this year is the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy, France, at the end of August. The 2010 WEG Individual Bronze Medalist with Hickstead, Lamaze will decide between Powerplay and Zigali P S for this year's WEG competition, which will mark his sixth consecutive WEG appearance.
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