The Kennel Club’s 78th English Springer Spaniel Championship Stake, in association with Calor and Sneyd’s Wonderdog, was held on 21, 22 and 23 January at Conholt Park estate, by kind permission of the Van Vlissingen family, and organised by the Spaniel Club.

Conholt Park, near Andover, in Hampshire, covers 2,500 acres of beautiful rolling countryside, where deep valleys allow the production of high-quality driven partridges and pheasants. This is the second time that Conholt has hosted this event.

Baron van Tuyll, a close friend of the Van Vlissingen family, welcomed everyone to the estate on the first morning and we were delighted that he had also agreed to be the after-dinner speaker at the Championship dinner, which was held at the Bear Hotel, Hungerford, on the Tuesday evening.

L-r: Phil Judson of Sneyd’s and Suzanne Weir of Calor with winner Andy Platt and Amethyst

The headkeeper at Conholt Park for 19 years, Chris Green (pictured below), must be congratulated. Since that first Championship he has transformed the tough cover in Cathangar wood to enable the smooth running of this event and to produce the necessary steady flow of game for the competitors.

It is not just a case of managing the game supply on the day, but about creating this ideal habitat to hold the birds and rabbits for the best English springer spaniels in the country to compete. Chris is a great enthusiast of gundogs and, being a spaniel man, he knew exactly what was required.

Game was not gifted to the dogs and they had to work as a spaniel should to produce it for the Guns. With the assistance of his army of stops, game carriers, pickers-up, drivers and other helpers, his organisation could not have been better to produce such an outstanding result.

The team of Guns that had been selected added to this success story. Sam Green, Ken Rolfe, Stuart Morgan, Derek Guest, Richard Bourne and Dave Axford (on day one), all shot brilliantly for the dogs, watching intently and only taking the birds and rabbits produced by the competing spaniels, enabling marking ability and game finding to be tested fully.

Chris Green

The judges have a wealth of trialling experience between them, all having made-up FTCh English springers. Will Clulee, from Shropshire, and Greg Ford, from south-west Scotland, took the odd-numbered dogs, beginning with Kenmilquin Flyer of Echoway in the first round on the right. Steve Bolton, from Windsor, and Ivan Wilson, County Tyrone, took the evens, starting with Steve Russell handling Rydanlue Finesse, a dog jointly owned with his wife Liz.

Liz Russell has the distinction of also being the Spaniel Club’s Championship Field Trial secretary responsible for the first-class organisation that was enjoyed by everyone.

Flyer soon became the first elimination of the event while Finesse finished her run cleanly with a flush and retrieve of a cock pheasant. Buccleuch Charm hunted really well but after gathering a rabbit and a cock pheasant she failed first dog down on a runner and was eliminated.

FTCh Misselchalke Lad of Halaze had a really good drive and produced plenty of game, but then passed a rabbit on open white grass the next day.

FTCh Helmsway Honey was very stylish, as was FTCh Rosebay Nectar.

It was quickly becoming apparent the standard of hunting was promising to be excellent throughout. Mark Clifford’s FTCh Belvden Collingwood maintained this high standard and put two more birds in the bag. A rabbit would have followed but, after the dog moved it several times in some thick brashings, it refused to flush for the Guns.

Another unusual occurrence happened in Collingwood’s second run, when a rabbit got up just behind the dog. However, the judges could see that it had actually come from below ground and he continued to complete another good run.

Eddy Scott’s FTCh Broomfield Rosie was also a pleasure to watch, with a good flowing pattern producing several rabbits from the brashings and bramble, and subsequently the white grass on the second day. FTCh Halaze Layla of Woodash made a nice job of a long wounded rabbit retrieve. Another one flushed, escaped the Guns by running into some laurels and a short retrieve of a hen completed their work.

Eddy Scott’s FTCh Broomfield Rosie

Class was then displayed by Andy Platt’s FTCh Clover Amethyst. The first cock it flushed got away but then Gun Sam Green took a long bird well out and as it fell it obviously was going to run. Amethyst marked the fall precisely and then took the line without delay to produce and deliver the bird brilliantly.

Meanwhile, out on the right after an early flush, Spamvalley Colt exhibited excellent courage and drive throughout a long hunt before producing another flush and a good subsequent retrieve. This splendid hunting was again displayed to produce rabbits and pheasants in the second round, but a mis-marked long retrieve must have affected the score.

Peter Avery’s black-and-white springer, FTCh Deepfleet Jay, took directions well to complete a simple eyewipe. After picking a spare retrieve, FTCh Rosebay Tara had a flush and retrieve of another that had moved away from the fall. Both these dogs hunted with considerable pace.

Bowmore Bobby displayed a good hunting pattern to produce a hen, but when sent to retrieve the dog leapt boldly over a line of sewelling and, unfortunately, the bird at the same time. Having badly overshot the area, it took some time to come back to collect it.

Rytex Retes demonstrated good marking on pheasants but its final retrieve of a rabbit was not so proficient. FTCh Lunarstar of Beggarbush was the final dog to run on day one. Good hunting and retrieving was a fitting end to the first day’s competition.

The judges completed the first round in Cathangar wood the next morning and after lunch Chris Green moved the trial out on to Conholt’s more open rabbit ground, which is fast gaining a reputation among trialling folk as a place to be able to show a spaniel’s style, ground and wind treatment to the full. It is also gaining infamy as an easy place to pass game when it is tightly tucked into seats in the grass, as several dogs discovered to their cost.

FTCh Clover Amethyst consolidated the previous day’s work. Excellent pattern over the tussocky grass was displayed, and drive and determination in a large clump of brambles then produced several birds. Each retrieve was perfectly marked and quickly delivered to hand. All the dogs left in the trial completed their second runs on this ground.

Jim Potter’s FTCh Rosebay Blossom (pictured) below flushed five rabbits in style from the brambles and consolidated that earlier work with two good positive finds in the grass and two clean, short retrieves.

Rosebay Blossom

Day three
By mid-morning the judges were huddled in deliberation. They called for three dogs to run-off and then for another two to run-off separately.

Again, the cover in Cathangar wood was used to reach a final conclusion. The results were announced by Spaniel Club secretary Liz Russell, while Baron van Tuyll kindly presented the diplomas to the winners. Suzanne Weir, representing Calor, and Phil Judson, from Sneyd’s Wonderdog, then made the presentations to the top four.

Applause followed the announcement that popular newcomer Andy Platt had triumphed overall, after beating the second and third place dogs in that final memorable run-off.

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