Four weeks ago, with the start of the summer circuit at Spruce Meadows, all the stories were about Eric Lamaze going to the London Olympics and whether or not he could successfully defend his individual gold medal without his beloved steed, Hickstead, who died last November of a ruptured aorta during a competition in Italy.
Who would Lamaze ride in London?
The Schomberg, Ont., resident had the luxury of two possible mounts to choose from -- Derly Chin De Muze, a nine-year-old chestnut mare, or 10-year-old gray gelding, Verdi.
Now, the week prior to the announcement, Lamaze had fallen off the mare when she stopped at the "B" portion of the triple combination during a World Cup Grand Prix competition. Lamaze was not concerned by the incident. If anything, it served as a wake-up call that he needed to stay focused and give her more guidance regarding the test that was in front of her.
Fast forward to July 7 and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows, the last big class for most team members putting the finishing touches on their mounts before heading overseas. Lamaze entered with Derly and the mare was jumping well, not touching a rail and handling the early trouble spot -- fences 5 AB, a vertical-vertical combination -- beautifully.
Coming towards home, the triple combination is late on course (11 ABC). It starts with a triple bar-style jump with a tricky distance to the B element. This time, Derly stopped before even attempting to jump into the triple combination. Lamaze wasn't unseated like he was the first time, but went to his stick to reprimand her for disobedience. Lamaze quickly steered her around and headed to the triple and she jumped all three elements fault free, completing the course with 10 faults, which came from the stop and then the time faults that were collected.
Now Lamaze has a problem. This young horse has put the brakes on twice in early July, a mere three weeks before the Games. Interviewed following his round by Brenda Irving of CBC Sports, Lamaze was emotional and stated he would continue to work on the problem -- but at all times, always doing what was best for the horse.
Well, that started a feeding frenzy: Would he not ride Derly? Would he substitute with Verdi? Would he step aside in favour of Canada's alternate rider, Yann Candele? Or as I have tried to speculate rationally -- that we are dealing with Eric Lamaze, ranked No. 3 in the world and a great pilot and trainer. Yes, he is sitting on a very talented horse that has been on a bit of a fast track, but Derly has shown she has all the goods. Lamaze will return to his farm in Europe and work on rebuilding the horse and help provide her the necessary tools to resolve the problem.
In the meantime, just to be clear, Irving tweeted Sunday: "Eric Lamaze stays committed to Olympic mount Derly Chin de Muze after recent refusals."