The 2006 IGL Retriever Championship was exceptional for a number of reasons. A record 53 had qualified, with 50 runners on the first day, 4 December. Ampton shoot, in Suffolk, boasts experienced management of the ground and game supply by host Peter Hammond, so the trials could finish by midday on 6 December. Peter?s son Alan ran the line superbly, and said another 10 dogs could have been coped with.

As expected, Labradors predominated, with 36 black Labradors and 11 yellows competing. Four golden retrievers qualified, but due to Jim Gale?s judging appointment only three were able to run. Thirty-six of the runners were field trial champions, with dogs outnumbering bitches by two to one. Seven Scottish dogs and four from Wales made it a truly national event, but sadly two of the four Irish dogs were delayed by a rough sea crossing. Six former Championship winners were among the handlers, as well as a number of newcomers.

The brilliant organisation by IGL secretary Philip Wainwright and his helpers ensured the trial flowed smoothly, with generally good viewing for the many spectators. Well-known judges, who actively compete themselves, had been appointed. Jim Gale and George Ridley took the right flank, and John Drury and Roger Tozer the left.

Day one

The first day started at 8.30am, adjacent to the meet at Livermere Hall. The Suffolk skies were cloudy and temperatures were mild. There were 10 Guns, all experienced at shooting for walked-up trials. The line started in a rectangular beet field, and the low numbers were soon in action. Andrew Wright?s Golden FTCh Marcus Maybe of Wadesmill picked a runner before it got too far. Les McLean?s FTCh Lettermore Loyal of Aithness picked a pigeon in a rough corner, close to the gallery. Other marked pheasants in the beet produced retrieves varying in quality.

As two dogs failed on a bird tucked into the corner of roots, Tess Lawrence stepped forward to take a double eyewipe with FTCh Willowyck Ruff. The line moved into a block of mustard, sown specially for the Championship. This was fine holding cover for game, with strips of 50cm-high crop bisected by longitudinal pathways.

Pheasants flushed steadily, so the trial made excellent progress through the first round of two retrieves per dog. There were also some partridges, but these were generally more flighty. Where visibility allowed it, the judges used cross-retrieves to test the dogs. Many marked well, but others came to grief flushing game or losing their way crossing the pathways. An eyewipe brought Tony Parnell?s yellow dog FTCh Tweedshot Maximus of Blackharn to the attention of the gallery. By the end of the mustard the high numbers were already coming into line. During lunch everyone marvelled at the progress made with so many dogs running.

The first round was completed after walking-up some sugar beet. At this point 20 dogs had been eliminated or discarded, leaving 31 to go into the second round of one retrieve each. Continuing through the beet field bordering the lake, one or two duck were dropped near the far shore. Andrew Wright?s Marcus and Peter Bates? black bitch FTCh Shadowbrae Mist of Levenghyl made good water crossings and retrieves. Back in the weedy beet there were some good long retrieves.

The only two-year-old dog in the trial, Upcountry Hawk of Strammers, handled by Peter Hammond, impressed. Judith Evans?s golden Holway Victor also looked fast and effortless. The outstanding retrieve of this round was an eyewipe on a runner completed by the stylish yellow dog FTCh Farmclose Paddy, handled by Robert Daws.

Day two

Thirty survivors returned to the mustard for the second day. The weather was cloudy, with a threat of showers and a fresh breeze.

The second round was fairly quickly completed, including smart retrieves for Scotsmen Joe MacLure and Tom Boyd. A few struggled and were dropped. We went straight into the third round of two retrieves. Good work was done by Mike Larkins with FTCh Larki Style. This was matched by the golden Marcus, which picked a cock pheasant, followed by a partridge down the line. Les McLean?s black dog Loyal kept up its challenge. Sarah Gadd?s FTCh Mansengreen Diesel of Birdsgreen impressed with stylish work on long cross-retrieves. Next Peter Hammond seized his chance. After two failed he was brought down the line to complete a two-dog eyewipe with Hawk, which drew applause from the crowd.

John Halstead, who was not in line, was then sent for a partridge already down, but FTCh Drakeshead Logo only picked after a lot of handling. John Halsted Junior was soon sent in and with Billy Steel Senior and Junior also in line the scene was set for a family battle. Surprisingly there were few hares, but a roe deer was flushed, and birds rose steadily.

The Steels completed their retrieves, but John Halsted Junior?s dog was eyewiped by Jane Coley?s FTCh Waterford Covey. Then Holway Victor did well on a partridge runner, and Farmclose Paddy did a smart retrieve among flushing game. The defending champion, FTCh Mill Cottage Pathfinder had so far worked with great pace and style, maintaining a challenge for Jim Swindlehurst. This time he failed to find and was eyewiped by Robert Daws? Farmclose Paddy.

Last year?s runner-up FTCh Wingsham Tinder of Smithsteads remained in contention with good retrieves for Polly Dunckley. FTCh Skellorn Danty was a yellow dog that caught the eye. It did smart work, but was handled lengthily by Andy Latham, who mismarked its next bird. Annette Clarke?s black bitch FTCh Garronpoint Little Dove made a nice job of the only woodcock shot. With a steady supply of game, and little missed by the Guns, the third round was concluded with retrieves of a hare and a pheasant by Sandra Halstead?s FTCh Greenbriar Viper of Drakeshead.

The fourth round of two more retrieves started with a smart back mark by the golden retriever Marcus. Several of the low numbers looked in contention, including Sarah Gadd and Les McLean. Tess Lawrence?s Ruff continued well with a hen and a runner, which made for cover beyond a muckheap. Further on, a pheasant flew a long way forward on the left, before collapsing in a block of mustard. Peter Hammond was tried first with Hawk, followed by Billy Steel Junior?s FTCh Broadlaw Jake. Both made the distance but did not find. Brought across from the right, Billy Steel Senior fell short with FTCh Clanbara Apache of Leadburn.

All three were eyewiped by Gareth Davies with FTCh Ropehall Star, which handled the distance and showed game-finding ability. Soon, there were more casualties. With two birds down to the right, Farmclose Paddy picked the wrong bird, and Philip Down?s Darleigh Thunderbolt failed to find. Tony Parnell was brought across and quickly found with Maximus. With light fading, we closed for the day, halfway through the fourth round.

Day three

The 12 remaining handlers included five ladies, two Welshmen and two Scots, with 11 dogs and one bitch; one golden retriever, two Yellow Labradors and nine black. With Polly Dunckley?s Tinder marking short on a retrieve behind, Tony Parnell stepped in for another eyewipe with Maximus. He was fast becoming the favourite. Annette Clarke?s Dove and Sandra Halstead?s Viper had good marks behind the line. Then Dove did well in front into the sun. Joe MacLure, however, slipped with a similar one. Near the corner, Viper appeared to struggle on a forward mark. It proved to be a runner and a good find was eventually made.

Number two Andrew Wright came in again for one retrieve in the fifth round, Marcus picking a bird beyond the beet on the drilling. A second in a similar position defeated Tess Lawrence?s Ruff, and was picked by Andy Latham?s Danty. One of the top contenders was out. There were now nine dogs to continue the fifth round.

The judges increasingly stretched the dogs with cross-retrieves from a longer line. Les McLean?s Loyal, Sarah Gadd?s Diesel, and Gareth Davies? Star continued to look good, and Annette Clarke and Tony Parnell?s Labradors also marked well at the increased distance. Sandra Halstead?s black dog Viper eyewiped Andy Latham?s Danty at the end of the round and Mike Larkins was dropped after a poor delivery.

This left seven dogs to continue for a ninth retrieve, walking up in the centre of the line under all the judges. A runner was tried for, but no dog was deemed first dog down. Then the golden Marcus was sent for another partridge runner on the far left, which was smartly gathered before it could reach nearby roots. Loyal?s retrieve was across a belt of reeds, with Les McLean needing to handle. Another runner defeated Diesel, with Star working better second dog down. Diesel overshot the next bird and was discarded. The remaining Welshman, Gareth Davies, stayed in with Star picking to the left. A cock shot on the right was nicely marked by Tony Parnell?s Maximus, but the yellow dog took a long time to pick-up the bird. Annette Clarke?s Dove overshot the next mark, but was quickly handled to hold the area and find, whereas Viper picked smartly to the left.

Moving to the lakeside, the six dogs sat through a duck drive. The contenders were Andrew Wright, Les McLean from Scotland, Gareth Davies from Wales, Tony Parnell, Annette Clarke and Sandra Halstead. Flushed by boats, the duck flew high, with Guns dropping ample birds to test the dogs for steadiness and water retrieves. All the dogs entered boldly and swam confidently.

As the spectators and helpers trooped back to Livermere Hall, discussions revealed no clear-cut favourite. Only one dog had straight A grades for all his 10 retrieves. The judges were united in deciding their order. Owned by Max Wright from Hertfordshire, and handled by his son Andrew, the winner was five-year-old FTCh Marcus Maybe of Wadesmill, the first golden retriever to win since 1982.