CALGARY — Already the all-time leading money winner at Spruce Meadows, veteran Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze added to his legacy on Saturday.
The 51-year-old from Montreal came out on top of a seven-way jump off to win the RBC Grand Prix of Canada and the top prize of $125,000 to add to his total of more than $3 million in earnings at Spruce Meadows.
“My fight at the moment is to keep riding and I will fight every day to keep doing this, because the horses are the greatest therapy that you can have,” said Lamaze, who revealed during a television interview with a sports network in France last month that he's been dealing with a brain tumour for more than a year and a half.
“I consider today a gift more than a weight has been lifted,” he added. “This is an ongoing battle for me and today’s a gift.”
Lamaze previously won the RBC Grand Prix in 2008 and 2010, both times aboard Hickstead, who he also teamed up with to win Olympic show jumping gold in Beijing in 2008.
“This is just the icing on the cake,” said Lamaze, who also won the PWC Cup aboard Fine Lady 5 on Thursday. “On a day like today I think of the great Hickstead. That was the last time I won this Grand Prix. He was looking out for me.”
Lamaze received a big cheer from the crowd at Spruce Meadows after his clean ride in the preliminary round to qualify for the jump off along with fellow Canadian Nicole Walker.
Also qualifying for the jump off were three riders from Ireland in Jordan Coyle, Brian Cournane and Conor Swail, along with American Beezie Madden and Steve Guerdat, of Switzerland, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.
“To have seven clear for me is a perfect course,” Lamaze said. “The course designer (Peter Grant) did a fantastic job.”
As the fifth of seven riders to complete the jump-off track, Lamaze laid down a clean ride in a quick time of 46.25 seconds to edge out Guerdat for top spot.
“I think most of you will know that I normally don't like to be beaten,” said Guerdat, who posted a clean ride in 46.92 to win $100,000 for finishing second. “Eric has always been an inspiration for all of us for many things. What he went through, I think today if he would have just been able to do a nice run, he would have been a hero already. To be able to win it, I have no words.
“What he’s done is more than any athlete has done. I'm blessed to be his friend and so happy to see him back winning these kinds of classes.”
Swail also had a perfect run in a time of 47.20 and took home $75,000 for finishing third.
Sitting beside Lamaze after the competition, Swail pointed out that he previously edged out Lamaze to win the RBC Grand Prix in 2016.
“The last time I was here, I was lucky enough to win and Eric was second,” said Swail, who praised Lamaze for his bounce-back performances this week. “For him to come back from all the difficult times that he’s had and is having is incredible, to be honest.”
Madden, of Cazenovia, N.Y., had the fastest time of 44.62, but she knocked down the top rail of the last jump to finish with four faults.
Madden had to settle for fourth place just ahead of Walker, of Aurora, Ont., who also had four faults to go with a fast time of 45.82.
“They’re definitely world class and I feel honoured to be competing with them,” said Walker of being in contention against the likes of Lamaze, Guerdat, Swail and Madden. “It would never have been in my wildest dreams to be at this level with them, so it’s like more than a dream come true for me.”
The Spruce Meadows National wraps up on Sunday.
Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press