It was at Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s insistence (once FMD restrictions were lifted in mid-October) that the championship went ahead as initially planned.

That she included it in a heavy schedule, even by impossibly demanding royal standards, said everything about her commitment to the best in British gun dogs, which has been a rich seam running throughout her reign.

The opening of the revamped St. Pancras station was followed by the Jubilee Anniversary service at Westminster Abbey, then to Malta to recreate her 1947 honeymoon. Kampala in Uganda was the next stop, for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

Then, just before the reception at Windsor Castle for the IGL, she was in Liverpool for a Royal Variety Performance; the following day she was walking through densely laid bracken in the Old Deer Park, often in torrential rain.

As Sir Winston Churchill might have remarked, ‘some monarch!’

Her headkeeper at Windsor, meanwhile, celebrated his retirement year with a peerless performance as Steward of the Beat. John Stubbs, whose birthday falls on the last day of the season for pheasant and partridge, will be 65 in 2008 – and with the championships of 1994 and 2001 at Windsor behind him (added to his judging experience at Holkham in 2004), he made the organisation of this championship the one to which all others must aspire.

Every kind of access and recreational activity takes place in the park’s 5,500 acres, and shooting is confined to the SSSI area, which is left entirely natural.

When we went to the Guards Polo Club area at Flemish Farm on the second day, we passed close by a sign proclaiming ‘Model Aircraft and Kite Flying Area.’

Absolutely on the flightpath to Heathrow, and only 20 miles from central London, this says everything about a remarkable peri-urban keepering achievement.

The gracious support and brilliant stewarding of Her Majesty and her headkeepers could be expected with utter confidence; past achievements and the formbook, by contrast, are in the realm of probabilities. Anyone with half an eye on such indicators though would be bound to give prominence to Tess Lawrence.

Judges Peter Hammond Phil Parkins Roddy Forbes David Garbutt.Judges: Peter Hammond, Phil Parkins, Roddy Forbes and David Garbutt.

Previously second, third three times and four times the recipient of a Diploma of Merit, she qualified her seven-year-old FTCh, Willowyck Ruff, by the seriously demanding three B qualification route. He recently qualified in 2004 and 2006 as well, with Tess herself judging at Drumlanrig in 2005.

At seven years of age, FTCh Willowyck Ruff was one of the three oldest gun dogs on the card at Windsor. Experience, whether of dog or handler, does not come more copper-bottomed. His wholly clean trial, including two game-finding eyewipes and a smart collection of an unsighted woodcock in bracken on the final day, ensured Tess Lawrence could, after so many frustrations and disappointments, finally place her hands on the magnificent Glen Kidston Challenge Cup.

In second place, in utter contrast, was the youngest handler in the championship, running one of the six dogs in the stake whelped as recently as 2005. A mere fledging, and only in her third year of trialling, Sharon Coby from Halesworth in Suffolk probably didn’t know enough to be nervous.

Certainly, her hands-in-pockets nonchalance and sheer delight at the consistent marking and responsiveness of Fordley Moor Whisky Mac of Longwalk was a tonic for the gallery, whose best interests were always at the forefront of John Stubbs’s concerns.

Dick Sorely, from Cardenden in Fifeshire, kept Scottish hopes buoyant to the last with the only bitch in the awards, FTCh Anson Anne of Denbank. Straight As and a good runner on the final morning secured a well-deserved third place, and the fine Lorna Countess Howe Memorial Trophy awarded to the highest-placed Scottish dog.

Diplomas of Merit went to Rikki Ross Moloney’s FTCh, Tasco Monk of Mansengreen, and, after judicial reconsideration, to Heather Bradley’s Garrethall Morse of Heathergaye.

Heather Bradley with Garrethall Morse of Heathergaye.Heather Bradley with Garrethall Morse of Heathergaye.

Fifty dogs had qualified, but Andrew Wright’s 2006 Golden Retriever Champion – the first of his breed to win since 1982 – could not defend his title, so 49 took the field; 29 having already attained their working titles. Dogs easily outnumbered bitches by 36 to 13, and Ron Jeffrey, Cherry Finlan, Billy Steel and Heather Bradley had the distinction of double qualifying.

Vicki Stanley and Sarah Gadd meanwhile, had each qualified two dogs, and Kathy Tuck who ran her own homebred Olivertash Primrose, had bred two other qualifiers. Both David and Andy Latham had qualified, and the Halstead family had its almost customary six representatives.

Three Willowyck sires had five progeny running. FTCh Matchfield Feargal sired three of the qualifiers, a distinction shared with FTCh Hatchfield Fern on the bitch-side. The most prominent sire, however, was Tom Smith’s 2001 champion FTCh Craighorn Bracken, who had five of his progeny running.

Three goldens, in addition to the defending champion, had qualified, but only Peter Bates with Birdsgreen Sweet Reward of Castlemans sustained a challenge to the final day.

The final drive saw the championship return to where it had begun, with birds driven out of Little Jubilee copse on Andrew Stubbs’s beat towards guns some 200 yards distant; clear instructions were acted on with prompt good humour by Graham Searle and his experienced flag team.

David Latham secures an eyewipe with FTCh Mediterian Blue.David Latham secures an eyewipe with FTCh Mediterian Blue.

Roddy Forbes and Phil Parkins were paired on the left, with David Garbutt and Peter Hammond, last year’s host, on the right. Had the judges considered the card, they would have noticed great distinction before a shot was ever fired. Before she presented the awards, IGL president Richard Parker congratulated Her Majesty on her diamond wedding, and paid tribute to deputy-ranger Phillip Everitt, who had been a ‘tower of strength’, especially through the Foot and Mouth uncertainties, such that nothing had been ‘too much trouble’.

A year, memorable in many ways, had delivered a memorable result.

Our apologies to Roger Skinner Ltd for incorrectly printing their congratulations advertisement in the February issue of the magazine. The correct details are as printed below:

1st FT Ch Willowyck Ruff (Mrs Tess Lawrence)

2nd Fordleymoor Whisky Mac of Longwalk (Miss Sharon Coby)

3rd FT Ch Anson Anne of Denbank (Mr Dick Sorley)

As well as offering our grateful thanks to all the other competitors, judges, organisers, Mr John Stubbs, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Crown Commissioners.

Skinners

  • Joy Venturi Rose

    I am looking for a photograph of David Garbutt’s Labrador FT Ch Pocklea Remus who won the 1991 Retriever Championship. Would you have one in your picture library? Regards Joy Venturi Rose