Canada’s Eric Lamaze topped a star-studded international field to win the $50,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round XI at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, on Thursday.
Just 19 combinations of 95 starters successfully negotiated the first round track set by course designer Olaf Petersen Jr. of Germany to advance to the jump-off.Four entries opted out of the second round, where 15 continued on over the short course with five double clear rounds.
Riding Zigali P S, Lamaze had the opportunity to demonstrate the horse’s capabilities with an exciting jump-off performance. A clear round in a time of 37.59 seconds put the pair at the top of the leaderboard with nine more still to challenge. None were able to catch Lamaze’s time, with Lorenzo de Luca of Italy coming closest with a time of 37.66 seconds while reigning World Cup Champions Beezie Madden and Simon of the United States stopped the clock in 38.78 seconds for third place.
After his win, Lamaze noted that he almost didn’t even show in the class when it started off with a string of clear rounds, but he made the decision to go anyway, and it paid off in the end. “At first I wasn’t going to go in because the first four were clear and I am pre-qualified for the grand prix, so I was thinking I was going to do the 1.45m tomorrow,” Lamaze laughed. He has a new string of horses this year and is carefully planning each horse’s show schedule and taking time to get to know them.
“Zigali is a new horse to me, I just got him before I came here,” said Lamaze, whose last European competition was at CSI5* Geneva in December before arriving in Florida for the 12-week FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival. “I liked everything about him from the beginning. He’s a fantastic horse that feels to me like he comes back in the second round like a winner. He gets better for the second round.
“He is so fast, I’ve yet to even unleash him and go fast,” said Lamaze of Zigali P S’s potential. “It feels great when you have a horse where it doesn’t matter who is leading, you feel like you have a chance to win. I’ve yet to even put the full throttle down with him.
Zigali P S is a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Kigali x STB-H Palfrenier) acquired last November for Lamaze by Carlene and Andy Ziegler of Artisan Farms. Along with Powerplay and Quelmec du Gery, both bought last spring by Artisan Farms, Lamaze once again has an internationally competitive string as he looks towards the upcoming World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, in August. At the last Games, held in 2010 in Lexington, Kentucjy, Lamaze won the individual bronze medal while his mount, the beloved Hickstead, earned the title of “Best Horse” after jumping clear for all four riders competing in ‘The Final Four’ format used to decide individual medals.
“Artisan and the Ziegler family were so generous to purchase Powerplay for me, who I love, then Quelmec du Gery and Zigali afterwards,” said Lamaze, 45. “For Zigali, I can’t ask for more in a horse. I knew the horse was a winner. This is a time in our sport when you can’t buy success. The sport is full of great riders and great horses, and you have to be a match with the horse; you can’t buy success unless you become a match with the horse. I’m a great believer in that. With Zigali, as with Powerplay, I’ve made a great match with the horse. Powerplay is more of a championship type horse with big scope, and Zigali is a real competitor for modern day grand prix.”
In addition to winning the $50,000 WEF Challenge Cup Round XI, Lamaze was also awarded a $3,000 bonus in the SSG Gloves “Go Clean for the Green” promotion. As Lamaze is personally sponsored by the Canadian glove manufacturer, it came as no surprise that he was wearing his SSG ‘Digitals’ on his way to victory.
Zigali P S also earned an award for his efforts. In recognition of his winning form, Zigali P S was presented with the Champion Equine Insurance Jumper Style Award by Laura Fetterman.
It was also a great day for another Artisan Farms rider. Caitlin Ziegler narrowly missed qualifying for the jump-off when, having posted a clear round with Touchdown, the clock stopped at 72.05, barely exceeding the 72-second time allowed. Her strong performance qualified her for Saturday night’s $100,000 CSI4* Engel & Völkers Grand Prix, the feature event of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival Week XI which, fittingly, is presented by Artisan Farms.
Lamaze is based full-time with Artisan Farms in Vrasene, Belgium, and Wellington, Florida. Following the conclusion of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival, Lamaze returns to Europe where he will begin competing in April.