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Game, set and point

This year, it was Scotland?s turn to play host to the Pointer and Setter Champion Stake, where, for the first time, it was held in the Lammermuir Hills, on the Duke of Roxburghe?s beautiful Byrecleuch estate. Judges for this year?s competition were Billy Darragh and Terry Harris, two of the most consistently successful trainers and handlers on the pointer and setter field trials circuit. Steward of the beat was headkeeper Drew Ainslie, and the gun was carried by beatkeeper Paul Percival.

In welcoming the competitors, competition organiser Jon Kean remarked that conditions looked perfect for pointer and setter work. There was a good fresh breeze and the day promised to be dry, bright and not too warm. The moor was in magnificent condition, there were plenty of grouse and the day should have been ideal for some high-quality gundog work. The only problem was that the birds refused to play their part.

In early August, grouse will usually sit tightly to a pointing dog, relying on concealment to protect them from predators. Later in the season they may become wild, running away from the dog or rising out of shot at the sight or sound of a shooting party. For some reason known only to themselves, the birds chose the day of the stake to behave like late-season grouse that have already been shot over several times, lifting well in front of the competitors or running in front of the dogs and rising wild. It made what could have been a classic stake on a superb moor into an extremely testing occasion for judges and competitors alike. As ever, though, those who adapted to the conditions best came through
to take the honours in the end.

The field

There were 16 dogs and 14 bitches competing, a somewhat smaller field than usual ? both judges would normally have several dogs in the stake, as would Penny Darragh, who was unable to run a dog because her husband was judging. The field was made up of 17 pointers, seven Irish setters, three English setters, two Gordon setters and one Irish red-and-white setter.

Two pointers started the day: Maurice Getty with Doodle Dandy and Wilson Young with FTCh Traigmhor Top Gear. Doodle Dandy was soon on point, but a long rode in failed to produce any birds ? the first intimation of what was in store. When the dogs were recast, Doodle Dandy pointed close to the same spot once more. This time a grouse was seen to rise off to the dog?s left: a running bird, possibly the one that had stopped the dog the first time. Meanwhile, Wilson?s dog had left the beat, so the second brace was called up as he set off
to retrieve it.

The run for Dennis Longworth?s Gordon setter, FTCh Clitters Uallas of Bringwood, and Heather Smith?s pointer, Oxspring Aurora, was over quickly when a bird was flushed. The next brace looked good initially, with some fast, wide running, but Dominic Goutorbe?s pointer Upperwood Lotto pulled well out to the left of the beat before flushing a covey. Darryl Edward?s English setter looked extremely stylish, but a touch unruly and was put on hold as a bye dog. Fran Toulson and
her Gordon setter Warrenfell Larch ran next, with Stephen Clarke and his red-and-white Irish setter Pepperstown Rascal of Craigrue. The Gordon setter was the more impressive with its quartering, but it was the red-and-white dog that came to an extremely determined point, eventually failing to produce any game despite looking solid.

Wilson Young, with FTCh Sparkfield Tribute of Burncastle, and David Hall, with FTCh Beanvalli Tornado, produced a lively run. Both pointers quartered well, with good pace, and a series of points eventually saw both produce birds, though Beanvalli Tornado in particular had to rode in a tremendous distance before a covey rose well out in front, while Wilson showed great confidence in his dog?s willingness to back its brace-mate. Jon Kean and Gerry Devine were next up, with pointer Gerensary Cherub and English setter Lefanta Kira respectively.

The setter was quickly on point, backed by the pointer, which also had wind of grouse. The setter left the point, then returned to steal it from Gerensary Cherub and was eliminated. Jon worked forward a long way before a grouse rose off to one side. Darryl Edwards was called in with the bye dog, Lefanta Kassy of Stanedge, and some good running was rewarded when both dogs pointed the same scent.

Despite appearing to be directly on top of its bird, the setter was unable to produce. Jon then worked his pointer forward and off on a long trek across some burned heather, with a single grouse running all the way in front of them, eventually rising 50 yards or so ahead of the dog. Steve Robinson and Richard MacNicol began their run well with Irish setter FTCh Lusca Fizz and pointer FTCh Allangrange Heather, but the good work was ruined when both dogs missed birds that were walked-up by the judges. Steve was then back again with another Irish setter, Lusca Ripp, to run with Jean Brown and her Irish setter, FTCh Lusca Finn. Both dogs ran well, despite the distraction of a number of hares, and both found birds. Steve?s dog pointed a covey that rose quickly, well out ahead of him, while Jean roded a long way, apparently unsuccessfully, only to see a single bird rise just as she was picking up her dog.

Alan Neill?s pointer Glenlinnhe Broom pointed almost as soon as it was cast off. Carol Calvert?s Irish setter, FTCh Glynmark Mary Kate, stole the point and was lifted, leaving Alan to rode a long way to produce a covey only to be eliminated when his dog proved unwilling to be picked up once the ground was cleared. Colin Organ?s pointer FTCh Paardeburgh Kitchener was perhaps unlucky to be eliminated for stealing a point from Wilson Young?s pointer, FTCh Fearn Ivan of Burncastle; it was questionable whether he would have been able to see the pointing dog. Wilson was placed on standby, but was quickly back in the action to run with Declon O?Rourke?s pointer Lusca Hi Speed, after Darryl Edwards? English setter puppy Stanedge Blaze chased a hare.

Some excellent quartering by Alberto Lazzarini?s Irish setter Coldcoats Gypsy, handled by Colin Organ, and Richard MacNicol?s pointer FTCh Gerensary Clover culminated in the pointer finding a good covey out on the edge of the beat. Richard was back to handle Peter Heard?s Irish setter Fauloon Dexter of Dunroon in the next brace, only to see the setter take off in pursuit of a hare as soon as it was cast-off. Colin Organ and Coldcoats Gypsy were called back to run with Alan Neill and his pointer, Gerensary Digger, and Colin?s dog was quickly on point. Colin elected to pick-up after a short rode forward and the dogs were recast only for the pointer to find the covey 50 yards off to the left.

Unfortunately, he pressured the birds too much and put an end to his chances for the day. Carol Calvert?s Irish setter FTCh Glynlark Flynn started brightly but went out of control, leaving Colin Organ to be called up again to run with Carol Martin and FTCh Sparkfield Talent. A promising run ended when both missed a bird. The final brace, both pointers, were Margaret Ward with Springpoint Dinah and Brian Richardson with Beanvalli Khamsin. Dinah pointed, but failed to produce birds and the judges signalled lunch.

Round two

Only four-brace were called for the second round. Maurice Getty, running with Jean Brown this time, looked to have improved his chances with a good find, but shortly afterwards a missed bird saw them both out of the reckoning. Wilson Young?s Fearn Ivan of Burncastle and Darryl Edwards? Lefanta Kassy of Stanedge pointed simultaneously and the setter produced birds, but flushed a covey after they were recast. Wilson was back again with Sparkfield Tribute of Burncastle to run with David Hall?s Beanvalli Tornado. David?s dog produced a covey after another long rode forward to compound the good work both dogs had done in the first round.

The final brace were Richard MacNicol and Steve Robinson, with FTCh Gerensary Clover and Lusca Ripp. Both dogs were quickly on point, though Richard?s was non-productive and Steve?s produced a hare. Finally, the judges called Wilson Young and David Hall back for another brief run as an extension to the second round before signalling the end of the trial. A long, and for some, anxious drive off the moor and back to the hotel followed before the results were announced and the prizes presented by Alan Rountree, chairman of the Kennel Club Field Trial Committee. The winner, for the second time in three years, was Richard MacNicol, with FTCh Gerensary Clover. Runner-up was Steve Robinson, with Lusca Ripp, Wilson Young was placed third with FTCh Sparkfield Tribute of Burncastle, and David Hall and FTCh Beanvalli Tornado took fourth place.

What should have been a classic pointer and setter trial was made difficult by the unsettled behaviour of the grouse. Scent appeared to be excellent, with birds being pointed at great distances, but running birds that tended to rise wild tested the dogs to the limits. The judges did an excellent job of allowing the dogs to work out some long points and, as always, it was the dogs and handlers that managed to adapt best to the conditions that came through in the end. For Richard MacNicol, it was another well-deserved Champion Stake, particularly sweet because it was Gerensary Clover?s final run before retirement, as well as her first and only run on this year?s field trial circuit.