Reigning Olympic champion Eric Lamaze will be testing one of his new horses, Derly Chin de Muze, against an international field in a $75,000 Nations Cup on Friday in Wellington, Fla.
The Nations Cup is one of only two team events in North America, the other being at Spruce Meadows near Calgary in September.
Lamaze is one of six Canadian riders contesting the international division at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington this week, and he's one of four on Canada's Nations' Cup team.
Olympic team selectors will be watching the event with great interest, gleaning information that will help them choose the Canadian team that will go to the London Games this summer.
With Lamaze on the Canadian team are veteran Ian Millar, of Perth, Ont., on Star Power; Canadian show-jumping champion Yann Candele of Caledon, Ont., on Carlotta Singular la Magnifica, and relative newcomer Tiffany Foster of Schomberg, Ont., on Victor.
Amy Millar of Perth, Ont. and Angela Covert-Lawrence of St. Lazare, Que., are also competing this week in Florida.
After the death of Hickstead – the horse that took him to Olympic victory in 2008 – Lamaze acquired seven new horses, at least five of which he had declared as Olympic mounts. Five of them became Canadian-owned before a Dec. 31 deadline. Horses that compete for Canada at the Olympics must be owned by a Canadian in the year before the Olympic Games.
Three of those horses appear to be valid Olympic prospects: the 10-year-old grey, Verdi, formerly ridden by a young Dutch competitor; a 10-year-old mare, Luikka and 9-year-old Derly Chin de Muze, a 9-year-old chestnut mare that is probably the least experienced of the three.
"Losing Hickstead was obviously very difficult," Lamaze said. "But with these new horses, the Olympics can now very much be a reality again. I am really excited about the future."
But Lamaze has chosen Derly Chin de Muze to ride in an important event. He may know the mare the best of the three. John Fleischhaker, the owner of Hickstead, bought the mare two years ago for his daughter Ashley to ride. But after the death of Hickstead, the family turned the mare over to Lamaze.
Lamaze started the copper-coated mare as a 7-year-old and then rode her occasionally last year. "I am happy to have her," he said. "We are going to aim at the highest standards with her."
The Olympic champion rider has already ridden Derly Chin de Muze in several classes in Florida, finishing second of 47 entries in the $50,000 Wellington Equestrian Realty Grand Prix in January and ninth of 66 in a $100,000 Grand Prix last week.
Canada has made a habit of winning the Nations Cup in Florida against all odds, against top European teams. Canada has won the event more than any other country, winning in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
This year, riders from 12 countries will compete in the Nations' Cup. Canada will go up against Australia, Britain, Ireland and the United States.
The course designer is former U.S. show-jumping rider Anthony D'Ambrosio.