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Highclere tests the world’s best

The prestigious Skinner’s International Retriever World Cup is a date marked in red by many in the gundog world. The event is a truly multinational fusion of friendly, but serious, competition, and a passion for working gundogs. For its first five years, the event was staged at Sherborne Castle Country Fair but, for the past seven years, it has been held at the Highclere Castle Game & Country Fair, on the Berkshire/Hampshire borders. This year it took place over the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May.

The cricket pavilion was competition headquarters, and the grounds around it were ideal for setting a range of tests. Swampy, boggy areas gave way to pine woods, sunny rides and open spaces. The tests comprised several variations — some long, double retrieves, blinds, water work and simulated walk-ups.

Skinner’s managing director, Greg Panter, said: “The tests are designed to assess a dog’s game-finding abilities, its ability at marking, its speed, drive and style, and other factors. The competitors put in an enormous amount of work to get their dogs to the required standard.”

Each country competing entered one team of four dogs. Over the two days, there were 10 tests in total, and each dog had the chance to score a maximum of 100 points. There was one further test for run-offs, and the team captain nominated which dog should go forward, with up to 20 points to be scored.

The judging panel comprised Richard Beckerleg, Lydia Goossens, Rupert Hill, Colin Pelham and Allan Schofield. Peter Castleman, who sets the tests and volunteers from the Kintbury Gundog Club, ensured that the event ran smoothly.

Growing numbers of continental triallers travel to the UK each year and it is common to see them competing at the retriever and spaniel championships. Scandinavia often has a strong presence. This is partly due to the growing interest in field trialling, but also because the density of small game in the UK makes running trials here more viable.

International contingent

One of the Italian supporters said that, in her area of northern Italy, there wasn’t much small game but there was an increasing number of wild boar, and a lot of “bambis”. The World Cup event has a Facebook following and is highly regarded by the continental contingent, who must be keen, given the expense of taking dogs abroad for a two-day event.

Swiss winners

England has claimed the top spot on a number of occasions, but this time it was the Swiss team that won by four points. England came second, with Austria third, Holland fourth and Germany fifth. Swiss team member Claudia Gross and Lockthorn Temba took the highest-placed dog award.

France came close — they were in the lead by 15 points on Sunday night — but fate struck a cruel blow when one of the team’s dogs was injured. They had to compete on the second day with just three dogs, which dashed their chances of victory.

For once, the weather was kind, and Welshman Mark Bettinson declared: “It is the best one I have been to and very well organised.”

Skinner’s sales and marketing director, Will Delamore, said: “The two-day event, which was started 12 years ago by Skinner’s chairman, Roger Skinner, is unique. We invite teams from different countries to enter, and the standard of dog work has increased tremendously over the past few years.

“From five or six teams, there are now 12 competing. There would have been 13, but Scotland had to pull out at the last minute because of a dog injury and a bitch coming into season.”

He added: “I suppose you could describe the competition as a stand-alone international ‘friendly’, which is as much a social gathering as anything else. There is a party atmosphere to the proceedings and a meal in the evening, at which triallers can wear their national dress.”