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The Pointer and Setter Champion Stake took place at the magnificent Byrecleugh estate in the Scottish Borders by gracious permission of the Duke of Roxburghe. Photographs: Glyn Satterley
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This grouse moor is idyllic for pointer and setter work – it is rolling moorland and a serious hunting dog can really show its style and pace as well as drive and stamina. There were dire predictions grouse numbers had plummeted to seriously low levels because of the bad winter followed by long periods of dry, Gobi Desert like conditions in the summer.
Speaking on Sky News, Dr Adam Smith, Scotland’s director of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said it was very unusual for the heather to be almost freeze-dried in winter then blasted with heat in summer. On some estates, grouse stocks were at their lowest level in living memory. A number of field trials were cancelled due to the unprecedented weather conditions.
Byrecleugh headkeeper Drew Ainslie knows his ground like the back of his hand and took a massive convoy of field triallers to a couple of grouse beats with decent coveys.
Conditions for the championship were ideal with three very experienced A Panel judges – Richard MacNicol, Carole Brown and Steve Robinson. All of them have won the championship during their field trial careers.
Richard MacNicol told me: “The conditions for the Champion Stake were very good, dry with a stiff breeze from the west. On arrival at the ground the omens were good when a large covey of grouse were in the heather close to where we parked. They soon took flight – good, strong grouse. My co-judges and I had a short discussion the previous evening on how we were going to run the trial. We decided to take 10 brace of the 18 competing in the morning and the remaining dogs after lunch. It did not take long for us to assess that the scent was very good as the first couple of brace had finds with long workouts. Grouse were surprisingly touchy during the morning, rising well in front of the pointing dogs, however some grouse did not fly particularly far before settling in again. People competing usually refer to this as being like a minefield. Not easy for dogs but, like a shooting day, they have to manage.”
Over the past three years, the Champion Stake has been judged by three A Panel judges during an experimental period. The KC Field Trials Committee reviewed this system and concluded there were significant advantages in using it, and that it should continue to be used. This year’s Champion Stake received the green light from all three championship judges.
The judges explained they had witnessed several good runs, as one would expect in this blue riband event. The runner-up, Mark Adams’ Irish setter FTCh Ballydavid Spitfire – a very stylish running dog – had a flawless run with excellent quartering, covering the ground with real drive. He had a cracking find and production on grouse, a joy to watch. This being the 13th brace was certainly not unlucky for Mark and his setter.
The overall winner, Steve Lound with his pointer FTCh Frosted Elfin at Fleetstalk, was the last brace of the day and did not disappoint. This is a dog that really attacks the heather and covers the ground with ease. He was the forward running dog at all times during his run and had a very good find and production. The judges had two top dogs after the first round, with several more in contention. Fifteen made it through to the second round, 12 had finds and three had good running without a find. A small extension to the second round was held to finalise the placings. The third placed dog, Billy Darragh’s Irish setter bitch FTCh Erinvale Ice Flare, had an excellent find and good groundwork. In fourth place was the 2016 winner, Bill Connolly’s English setter bitch FTCh Ballyellen Cara, handled by Gerry Devine.
Diplomas of merit were awarded to: Wilson Young’s pointer dog FTCh Fearn Quark of Burncastle (2017 winner), Gerry Devine’s English setter bitch FTCh Gortinreagh Faith and Linda Westron’s pointer bitch FTCh Goddrib Florence.
Before the championship got underway, a minute’s silence was held in memory of Northern Ireland pointer man Alan Neill who was tragically killed in a road traffic accident in southern Scotland. There was great sadness throughout the pointer and setter world at his passing. Alan qualified eight pointers for the Champion Stake – a remarkable feat by any standards.
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Team Ireland were crowned the overall victors at the 53rd Home International competition at The Game Fair.
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