The Euro Challenge is always a highlight of The CLA Game Fair, and this year?s competition didn?t fail to excite. Judged by Judy Rainey and Roger Wade and sponsored by Sporting Saint, five teams from the Continent (Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria) each compete with three retrievers against a team from Great Britain. There is always a Labrador, a golden retriever and any other breed of retriever in each team, and this year it was a delight to view a curlycoat, a Chesapeake Bay, a Nova Scotia duck toller and three flatcoated retrievers, and all worked extremely well.

The arena, which ran alongside the River Glyme, was covered in rough grass and thick weeds up to a foot tall and, with no wind, scenting conditions were difficult. The first team to run was Switzerland, where unfortunately Steve Grutter?s Labrador Diesel Woodbank Ben failed at the really difficult water test of a blind across the river on the far bank. With high reeds it was hard to see the dog once it entered the water ? two other teams had a failure on this, the third test, though the Swiss Chesapeake Mattaponi?s Matoanka handled by Ursula Moilliet, scored a full mark of 20.

The Netherlands team was next with Captain Gerda Companjen?s golden retriever Lowly Raffaello, bred in England, which did well on the lengthy retrieves. Great Britain followed with creditable performances, particularly from the flatcoat Gowran Indigo Extra, handled by Rob Willatts, scoring 20, l9 and 20 on the first three tests. Belgium had hard luck with a zero on the water from Brindlebay Ninja, handled by Patsy Deheyder, then Germany also suffered when the golden retriever Golden Shenandoah Highland Cattle, handler Thomas Wilk, failed at the same hurdle. Austria came last ? but definitely not least.

Waldemar Allmeier?s Labrador Scholly?s Elvis gained two 20s and a score of 72; Kurt Becksteiner?s Doubleuse Helagsmountain?s score was 20, 20, 18, 20 and Romana Krojac?s flatcoat Chilli Vom Retrieverzwinger had 20, 19, 19 and 20. What a performance!

In the afternoon two more tests were held. The first was a pseudo drive with beaters throwing dummies around and shots being fired. The dogs were required to pick dummies from and over the river. It was good to see Belgium?s duck toller Fireheart Jelle?s Darwin, handled by Jelle Huysmans, and Germany?s curlycoat Ringlets Vinterbris, handler Jennifer Hirschfeld, gaining a 20 each. Great Britain seemed to be well in the lead, with a total of 319, until it came to Austria, who achieved 337. Total scores were Austria 337, Great Britain 319, Germany 299 and The Netherlands 279.

The keenly anticipated International

The International team competition is the UK?s foremost team event, held every year since 1969 and at The CLA Game Fair since 1977. This year the spaniels were judged by Jeremy Organ and Ken Lindsay and the retrievers by Derek Capel and Guy Bennett. Each team consisted of five spaniels and five retrievers, with two dogs from different countries running together.

The large grandstand was packed when the first two competitors entered the arena ? a spaniel from Scotland and another from Wales. The captain for Scotland, Peter Holmes, keenly watched and cheered Buccleuch Ranger, handled by Edward Martin, as his English Springer Spaniel (ESS) hunted up through the rough cover, flushing a pigeon from a clump of bushes and retrieving a blind back over the fence built across a corner of the arena. Hunting on, there was a marked dummy thrown ahead at a distance of about 30 yards, which fooled several dogs but the dog did well, achieving 9 out of 10.

The third test was a marked water retrieve with a shot ? just as the dog was sent, a bolting rabbit (on elastic!) tore across in front of it. Nonetheless, the dog achieved a good score of 10. The fourth test was a dummy thrown well out over the dog?s head as he was hunting. He was required to be steady and to retrieve when directed by his handler, but didn?t do as well here, as he failed to watch the dummy fall, scoring 6, with 47 out of 60 for hunting.

Wales?s Beggarbush Elen of Cowarncourt, an ESS bitch handled by Kevin Powell, with captain Alan Rees watching avidly, got two full marks and 51 for hunting but a zero for the first retrieve ? a great disappointment, though his total of 79 was two more than Edward?s.

The next two were Mcridgeness Flash, an ESS dog, handled by Steve Wansall for England, captained as usual by John Halstead, and Megan of Rolaghbridge, an ESS bitch, handled by Barry Caffrey for Ireland, captain Willie Edgar. Steve gained a total of 74 and Barry a total of 72. The third dog for Scotland Broomfield Rosie, an ESS bitch, handled by Eddie Scott, was given a total of 89 ? but what about Ireland?s Bold Black Beauty, handled by Bert Barrett, whose total score was 94?

In the afternoon it was the turn of the retrievers, all Labradors, with some incredibly good work on the difficult long retrieves. Huw Jones for Wales with Caulliechat Rebel of Garngoch, and Lee Hartis for England with Lowforge Aragon of Leacaz, commenced with a creditable score of 91 each.

There were only two scores of 20 for the hazardous retrieve across the river through the high reeds: Ireland?s Declan Boyle with Chief Lightning Bolt and Scotland?s Stan Payne with Rimouski Caley Oakstan, giving Stan a good total score of 90.

Laura Hill, running in the International for the first time with FTCh Jobeshill Octavia, gained an extremely good 91, which was the highest score of the afternoon.

On Sunday morning there was a little more wind, improving the scenting conditions for the spaniels. Ireland?s Tim Crothers, with ESS bitch Scroggwood Copper, managed a total of 94, matched by Scotland?s Eddie Scott with ESS bitch FTCh Broomfield Rosetta, also with 94. It was interesting to see England?s Simon Tyers running a cocker spaniel dog, FTCh Randalyn Black Knight, who hunted keenly to score a total of 82.

As the last four spaniels prepared to run, it was wondered if any of them would beat the best score of 94, but then the captain of Ireland, Willie Edgar with McGwyn Deallus, an ESS bitch, started his run and the crowd began clapping as his bitch scored 8, 10, 10 and 10; she got 59 out of 60 for hunting, making a total of 97. What a performance, a pleasure to watch. When a spaniel is as good as this it makes the heart glad.

So now it was all up to the retrievers on Sunday afternoon. Who would excel here? Kevin Downes?s Olivertash Busker scored an excellent 90 for Wales, but it was England who came to the front with Mark Demaine?s Calderhey Adder scoring 93, and Annette Clarke?s FTCh Garronpoint Liffey gaining 89, giving them an unbeatable total score of 852.

The Duke of Marlborough graciously came to present the numerous cups and prizes. England came first, with 852 points, winning the Shooting Times Trophy. In second place was Ireland, with 818. Third was Scotland, with 812, and fourth, Wales, with 808.

The Best Spaniel Team was Ireland and Best Retriever Team, England. Willie Edgar?s McGwyn Deallus won the Best Spaniel Individual and also the Best Hunting Spaniel. Mark Demaines?s Calderhey Adder won the Best Retriever Individual and also the Best Marking Retriever.

Willie Edgar also won the Best Dog of either Breed, the Best Irish Dog and the Best Irish Spaniel, all with trophies. It was suggested that he borrow a trailer to take them all home!