Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze of Schomberg, ON, moved to the top of the leader board on Friday night to qualify for the ‘Final Four’ that will contest the World Championship title at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, KY.

With two clear rounds, Lamaze and Hickstead, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion owned by Ashland Stables and Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable, moved from fourth to first place in the standings. A total of 121 competitors started the World Championship event, which began Monday.

“The scores were so tight, one rail and you could be out of it,” said Lamaze, 43, of Friday night’s individual competition. “I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I can almost start to enjoy it!”

Lamaze will now join Philippe Le Jeune of Belgium, Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil, and Abdullah Al Sharbatly of Saudi Arabia in Saturday evening’s ‘Final Four.’ In the ultimate test of horsemanship, each athlete will ride their own horse over a course set by Conrad Homfeld, and then ride each of the other four horses.

“Philippe’s would be the most difficult for me to ride because I am not used to a bigger horse,” said Lamaze of riding Le Jeune’s horse, Vigo d’Arsouilles. “Rodrigo’s horse, HH Rebozo, will be easiest for me to ride, just looking at it from the outside. I hope I am right!”

Pessoa, the 2004 Olympic Champion, tapped Lamaze’s Hickstead as the horse he is most looking forward to riding, saying, “I fancy riding Hickstead. He just looks fun!”

Lamaze, who is competing in his fifth consecutive World Equestrian Games, endures the added challenge of riding with a broken bone in his left foot. Lamaze broke his foot in July while competing in the Grand Prix of Aachen, Germany, which he went on to win, and underwent surgery. The bone did not heal properly, and Lamaze will undergo further surgery following the World Equestrian Games.

“It’s no worse now then when I started the week,” said Lamaze, who walks with a cast. “It’s holding up, but I am being cautious.”

John Pearce of Stouffville, ON, also advanced to Friday night’s Individual competition. Riding Chianto, Pearce was fifth coming into the Individual competition, but incurred eight faults in the first round and one time fault in the second to finish in eighth place overall.

“My horse was a little strong and a little fresh in the first round,” said Pearce of Chianto, a 14-year-old grey Danish Warmblood gelding owned by Alison Moore. “For a horse that has no international experience, and I mean none, he has been fantastic! It is remarkable what he has done. In the past year, he has come on strong and starting winning.”

Pearce last rode on a major games team 10 years ago, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“It’s been 10 years since my last major games, and I don’t feel that I’ve missed a beat,” said Pearce. “It has been a successful five days. I’m thrilled. My horse has been absolutely amazing. I think a lot of people are surprised by what he has done here.”

On Wednesday, the Canadian Show Jumping Team comprised of Lamaze, Pearce, Yann Candele of Caledon, ON, and Jonathon Millar of Perth, ON, finished fifth among the 27 nations vying for the World Championship title. With a fifth place finish, Canada earned its berth to the 2012 London Olympics.