Kara Chad coming off an impressive double-clean for Team Canada heading into Spruce Meadows

Eric Lamaze feeling confident heading into season at Spruce Meadows

Something seems different about Eric Lamaze.

After a couple of seasons spent familiarizing himself with new horses and developing young mounts, Lamaze seems to be in refreshingly good spirits at the dawn of the Spruce Meadows summer series.

Winning two straight Grand Prix events in Europe will do that to anyone.

“I’m excited about a lot of things, to be quite honest,” the 46-year-old said Tuesday, a day before the International Ring opens for the National. “I’m really enjoying the journey I’m going through at the moment.”

With the National set to kick off Spruce Meadows’ annual five weeks of show-jumping, Lamaze is among the favourites at the Calgary equestrian facility for the first time since the death of his iconic horse Hickstead in 2011.

Powerplay, who Lamaze rode to victory at France’s prestigious Grand Prix of La Baule on May 18, showed signs of potential last summer after joining the 2008 Olympic champion’s stable in the spring.

When Lamaze jumped to his second straight win a week later at the Grand Prix of Rome while riding Zigali P.S., though, heads started to turn his way in the equestrian world.

If Lamaze has got two world-beaters in his stable in a world championship year, look out.

“There was a time after the tragedy of Hickstead that I sort of lost my wind a bit,” Lamaze said. “I really feel like I’m back on horses that are very competitive at any show in the world. Winning these two Grand Prix sort of re-confirmed what I thought about these horses and what they were capable of. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re the only one who’s thinking this.”

Even more than most years, the next six weeks at Spruce Meadows represent an ideal chance to build momentum for Lamaze and the rest of the Canadian contingent before heading to Europe in July.

While the presence of two-time reigning RBC Grand Prix champions Kent Farrington and Uceko means nobody else can really be called the favourites heading into the National, several other top American riders aren’t in Calgary this time around.

Both Reed Kessler and Ashlee Bond chose to stay in Europe to compete, while a broken collarbone has forced Beezie Madden to watch from the sidelines this year.

That should open up a window of opportunity for several top Canucks — which is not to say that they’d need it. With nine RBC Grand Prix victories to his name, Canadian legend Ian Millar will be looking to add to his formidable legacy, while Tiffany Foster had a strong winter, bringing home five FEI wins.

They’ll be joined by up-and-comers Calgarians Ben Asselin, who won last year’s Tourmaline Oil Cup at the Masters, and Kara Chad, who’s coming off an impressive double-clean that helped Canada capture the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in Mexico on May 9.

The way Lamaze sees it, with the world championships set for late-August and a Canadian team competing at the world-renowned Nations Cup competition in Aachen, Germany, for the first time this summer, Spruce’s Summer Series will be pivotal to fitting all the pieces to the puzzle together.

“Spruce Meadows tells you a lot about your horse,” Lamaze added. “The European competition is difficult, but Calgary is different. I think it brings out the best or the worst in a horse.”

 

Calgary Sun - Jun 3, 2014

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