We dip into the pantheon of legendary gundogs to select one each issue.
John and Sandra Halstead have owned several legendary labradors, but FTCh Breeze of Drakeshead was their greatest winner. He is the only dog to win the IGL Retriever Championship three years in a row, a feat never repeated before or since. Remarkably, the last two wins were accomplished with a heavily bandaged paw.
John first qualified Breeze for the Championship in 1984 when he was not yet two at the Duke of Wellington’s Estate at Stratfield Saye, Hampshire. He ran alongside their older dog Drummer (FTCh Glencoin Drummer of Drakeshead). Both dogs were in the awards, Drummer taking Reserve and Breeze a Diploma of Merit. “These were two of my best dogs – either was capable of winning the Championship, but I had to choose which dog to keep,” remembers John. “Drummer was already near his prime so I decided to allow the younger dog to show its worth.”
After his award at Stratfield Saye, Breeze won in 1985 at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire; in 1986 at Arniston Estate, Scotland; and in 1987 at The Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. “At Stratfield Saye he ran a superb Championship but never had the opportunity to take a runner,” remembers Sandra.
The following year, at Welbeck, Breeze had his opportunity. On the second day a long cock bird fell well behind the line during a final walk-up in fodder and sugar beet. Arriving quickly to the area, Breeze worked with great conviction and style for some time before raising his head with the runner, accompanied by a loud gasp from the gallery.
At Arniston he picked an equally decisive runner the second day. John Drury’s dog was sent for a hen which he hadn’t marked and had fell on the right. Breeze was sent next, hitting the fall more positively. He took the hint of a line that came and went, returning again and again to the fall before moving to the left. Working persistently upward in a gale and driving rain, he came across a strong touch of scent and found the bird tightly tucked in, 90 yards from the fall.
At Sandringham he completed his hat-trick on the second day when four dogs were called into line for a drive. As the judges were doing their books at the end of the drive, Her Majesty sent someone to tell the judges she had marked a wounded partridge that flew deep beyond a fence and two ditches into woodland. With utter composure John handled Breeze to the retrieve, confident that ‘the goods would be produced’.
With his final victory, Breeze won outright the magnificent silver Championship Challenge Cup, presented in 1910 by host Captain A. Glen Kidston. John Halstead generously re-presented the trophy to the IGL in perpetuity, winning it back again in 1992 at Sandringham with FTCh Raughlin Pete of Drakeshead. Breeze was bred by Wilfred Bickley on 28 December, 1981, out of Carrington Fay put to FTCh Drakeshead Tinker. Tinker was an offspring of one of the greatest producers of the Halstead’s lines, Dipper of Drakeshead. She gave birth to just two litters that included several champions and top class shooting dogs, and passed on her qualities for many generations to come.
After his final victory, Breeze was retired just before his sixth birthday. John Halstead remembers him as a brilliant gamefinder. “He would take runners even when other dogs were finding scenting conditions difficult to locate dead birds. It was uncanny how he could mark. In fact, he was the nearest thing to the complete gundog you could get. Even though I always say that I have never come across the perfect dog, Breeze came very close!”