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HPR championship: victory at last

After 34 years of trying, handler Rory Major has finally won the HPR Championship. David Tomlinson hails a long overdue success

HPR Championship

Rory Major on his way to success with Jago in the 2021 HPR Championship

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s a rule that applies to Rory Major, who last month finally achieved his lifelong ambition to win the HPR Championship. As he admits with a wry smile: “It’s only taken me 34 years to win it. I have qualified for every championship since it started in 1986, both with my own dogs and those I’ve handled for other people. My own dogs have run in 11 championships.”

In recent years, Rory has qualified what he describes as ‘multiple dogs’, which may sound an exaggeration but it is true. In 2019, for example, he ran four dogs in the event, a Brittany, a German wirehaired pointer, a Hungarian wirehaired vizsla and a large Munsterlander.

Despite such a formidable array of dog power, he only managed a disappointing fourth place and a diploma of merit. It was a reminder of the huge part luck plays in winning a competition like this.

This year, at long last, the luck was with him. The championship, sponsored by Skinner’s, was held on the Westerdale estate on the North York Moors. Rory ran three of the 15 runners, a father and daughter GWP and a Hungarian wirehaired vizsla dog. He had imported the vizsla from France in 2014 and he was the top HPR of all breeds in 2019. However, it was the young GWP bitch that Rory thought most likely to be a winner.

Great achievement

GWPs have always been Rory’s main breed — he made his reputation as an HPR handler by being the first person to make up a FTCh German wirehair, back in 1985. His bitch, Velia, won six open stakes, but frustratingly not the championship. Since then he has trained and handled virtually every type of HPR. One of his most notable successes has been making up a trio of Brittanys to become dual champions (field and show champions), an exceptional achievement.

It would have been fitting if he had finally won the championship with a GWP, so it was somewhat ironic that it was a seven-year-old HWV, Jaguar du Domaine Saint Hubert at Bryantscroft (known as Jago), that brought the coveted trophy home to Horncastle. It was a convincing win, too, as judges Steve Kimberley and Mick Canham didn’t award second or third places, so runner-up to Rory and Jago was Charlie Grewcock with his GWP, Eleppas New Moon, in fourth place.

A GWP has never won the championship in a competition that has always been dominated by German shorthaired pointers. The past two events, in 2018 and 2019, were both won by the same GSP, FTCh Aytee Jumbo Jet of Islasbraw, but there were wins for HWVs in 2017 and 2016. Jago’s win consolidates the HWV as the second most successful breed in the championship — the 2017 winner was Jago’s sister.

German Wirehaired Pointer

Handler Rory Major giving an HPR demo at the Game Fair with a German wirehaired pointer

Dominant force

Amateur handlers have long dominated the HPR Championship, but that’s chiefly because there are relatively few professionals handling these dogs at the highest level. Though Rory is best known as an HPR handler, he is a professional gundog trainer and enjoys working with anything from spaniels to retrievers.

He got his first dogs, a terrier and lurcher, when he was 16, but his first gundog was an English springer, bought for £15. “I wanted a dog for beating, as the terriers were hopeless — they kept on going to ground,” he explains. “The spaniel proved to be hard-mouthed but great in the beating line, while he managed to beat labradors in working tests. I planned to get a flatcoat next as I had always fancied the breed but, in my usual organised way, I ended up with Velia, a German wirehaired pointer puppy.” And Velia set him on the path to become a professional trainer.

For 12 years, Rory ran a milk round, a job that gave him free afternoons to concentrate on dog training, which is what he really enjoyed. In those days, he didn’t concentrate solely on gundogs; he used to do sheepdog displays as well, working with sheep at larger events and flocks of ducks at fetes. Rory and his collies were in great demand, but in 1999 he and his wife, Jane, took the plunge and bought a gundog training and boarding kennels in Lincolnshire, so the collies were retired.

Today, there are few serious handlers in the HPR world who have not sought the advice of Rory at his Bryanscroft Kennels but, as he is quick to point out, he is far from being an HPR specialist. He picks-up with a team of spaniels, retrievers and HPRs as well as competing with his Irish setters, labradors and cockers, making him a genuine all-rounder.

When I first interviewed him for this column, I asked him which breed he would have if he could only have a single dog. His answer, surprisingly, was a spaniel. Today, 17 years later, the answer is an Irish setter.

“They are a breed that get right under your skin. I am now on my fourth, but so far I have only had two field-trial winners, so I’m still working on making up a FTCh,” he says. And he will — give him time.