This year?s Euro Challenge, held during The CLA Game Fair at Ragley Hall, was an all-round success. Sponsored by Sporting Saint and judged by Lady Venetia Hugh Smith and Barbara Kuen, the three rounds of tests were held on Friday, watched by a huge crowd. Unfortunately, Italy was unable to attend, so at the last minute a Rest of the World team was raised.

The first round was a static test in which each dog was given two retrieves into the crop, a mark and a blind (an unseen), starting with Hungary. All eight teams comprised a Labrador, a golden retriever and a third dog, which could be a different retriever breed or a spaniel, as was the case with Hungary.

The Rest of the World team also had a springer spaniel, the Netherlands a very good flatcoat, Belgium a Nova Scotia duck toller, Switzerland a Chesapeake Bay, Great Britain a sparkling flatcoat, Germany a curlycoat and Austria a flatcoat. In the second round, each dog was sent for a marked retrieve over a fence and a short water retrieve from the lake. The third round simulated a drive. The eventual marks were close, with Great Britain first with 349, just beating the Netherlands, who had 340, and Switzerlandwith 334. The Best individual Labrador was Chantal Goreux?s Ffynongain Ben from Belgium with 116, Best Golden was Gerda Companjen?s Holway Leonardo from the Netherlands with 119, and Best Other was Robert Willatts?s flatcoat Gowran Indigo Extra from Great Britain with 117.

Rivalry in the International

Saturday was the first day of the International run between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, with great rivalry between them as they vied to prove which team was the best.

In the morning, it was the turn of the spaniels, which ran in pairs. One from Ireland, Tom McCann?s Salamere Finn, against Scotland?s Meikleburn Pipster, handled by David Wilson, started with some first-class hunting through the gamecrop, then a marked retrieve ahead over a fence, more hunting, a flush of a live pigeon from a pile of brashings, saluted by a blank fired from a shotgun, a blind back over a fence, then a tricky water retrieve. Both dogs completed well, which set the scene for an enthralling competition.

By lunchtime, it was Jim Clarke?s FTCh Rosebay Blaze with 150, which would have to be beaten on the Sunday for top dog. The afternoon started with one retriever from each country in the arena, with some difficult long marks and blinds to test the dogs, but it was the short water dummy that caused the most trouble. Starting with a walk-up with a marked retrieve that was thrown not far ahead at the near side of the first fence, dogs were inclined to jump the fence and then have to be handled back, which cost them points.

The second long mark over two fences wasn?t too difficult, but the next was the water. The dogs were taken away from the lake and sent diagonally for a dummy thrown high into the water, accompanied by a shot. There was a steep bank that prevented the handler seeing the dog in the water; the second snag was the fact that there was a lot of weed; the third that the fishermen had a long line of marker buoys across the lake and 20 yards on from the dog entry point, causing at least two dogs to try to retrieve a buoy. Of course, these all made it tricky and the long mark over two fences to nearly the length of the 200-yard arena meant that wasn?t easy either.

The next four through had different tests, with lots of shots and dummies thrown and picked-up by the beaters to simulate a drive, then blinds, marks and another, easier, water retrieve. Some good work was seen, but as the teams would be swapping tests on Sunday, no-one knew who was in front on points.

Sunday was again a fine day and started with the spaniels ? what cracking hunting and marking. The consensus was that this International was seeing the best dog work ever in a working test.

Billy Leonard for Scotland with FTCh Buccleuch Amber, Paul Carragher for Ireland with Clonduff Delilagh and Wesley Thomas for Wales with FTCh Lunar Star, all achieved 151 points, which necessitated a run-off, won by Clonduff Delilagh. Billy Leonard, Paul Carragher and Willie Edgar, the Irish captain, with Dolly in a Daydream of Countryways, all had 75 for hunting, with Dolly in a Daydream triumphing in the run-off.

In the afternoon, the marking ability of the all-Labrador entry (though the spaniels were all English springers, with the exception of a cocker spaniel for England) was incredible. The length of the retrieves, and spot-on marking and whistle work showed how good the dogs were.

Again, dogs struggled in the water, though several were there and back in a minute. The Duchess of Devonshire?s Emmanygan Ramble of Chatsworth, handled by John Halsted, was highest with 147, though another England dog, FTCh Garronpoint Rye of Linkswold, handled by Richard King, had 152 points from Saturday.

It was thought that England had won the Best Retriever Team, but no-one was sure who had won overall. Everyone was waiting for the results as the Marquess of Hertford, the owner of Ragley, kindly gave out the prizes. The Best Team was England, captained by John Halstead, with 1,421 points. Second was Scotland with 1,419, with William Steel as captain. In third place, was Ireland, led by Willie Edgar, with 1,336, and in fourth, Wales, captained by Allan Rees, with 1,292. The Best Spaniel Team was Scotland and Best Retriever Team, England. Paul Carragher?s Clonduff Delilagh won Best Spaniel Individual. Best Retriever Individual and Best Overall Individual was Richard King?s FTCh Garronpoint Rye of Linkswold. Best Hunting Spaniel was Dolly in a Daydream of Countryways. The Best Marking Retriever was Roddy McBain?s Levenghyl Isle of Mull.