The first field trials were run for pointers and setters in 1865 and in 1869 the National Pointer and Setter Society organised the first Champion Stake, held on the Morerton Corbet Estate near Shrewsbury. David Hudson reports back on the latest for 2019.
Six dogs ran in that first Champion Stake in 1869 and the winner was Mr. Garth’s pointer dog Drake.
One hundred and fifty years later we gathered on Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum’s beautiful Bollihope Estate to see forty-two pointers and setters compete for the oldest and most prestigious field trial championship in the world.
The Pointer and Setter Champion Stake, organised by the International Gundog League, has been run at Bollihope every other year since 1973, with alternative years being run in Scotland by the Scottish Field Trials Association. Bollihope is one of the most productive moors on the Pennine but Head Keeper Peter Fawcett told me that they are not expecting a bumper year in 2019. ‘We saw a lot of big broods soon after hatching,’ he said. ‘But a couple of days rain reduced them from 10s and 12s down to 6s and 7s’. Still, pointer and setter trials do not need a huge abundance of birds: indeed if there are too many coveys it can be difficult for the dogs to get properly into their work.
Ideal ground for a field trial
The weather was dull and cloudy after the previous day had seen torrential rain, but there was a good, steady breeze as the first brace were cast off after a drive out across the moor where the long train of vehicles was watched by numerous coveys of grouse, curious at this sudden invasion of their normally peaceful terrain. The ground was absolutely ideal for a field trial: flat and open so that the gallery could see everything that happened throughout the day. The Judges, David Hall and Steve Lound – who won last year’s Champion Stake – had decided to run eleven brace before breaking for lunch and we started off just a few yards from the vehicles with Carol Calvert and Maria Jacques running English setter Ballyellen Bluegrass and Pointer Sparkfield Dusk respectively.
Being first out of the hat may not have been lucky for the first brace as it appeared that a covey was running ahead having been disturbed by the arrival of the field. Some tricky work ended when a grouse flushed and both dogs were out. The birds were more settled as we moved on across the moor though the sight of a number of dogs flushing birds suggested that scent was probably not great. By the time we turned back for lunch having seen eleven brace of dogs my unofficial book had only five runners that I thought would make the second round.
After refreshments the Steward of the Beat Peter Fawcett took us to a beat roughly parallel with the morning’s ground to run the final ten brace. Whether scent had improved or whether the grouse were sitting more tightly is open to question, but I soon found I was putting more ticks than crosses into my book as the dogs ran. The fourth brace after lunch were the highlight of the day as Terry Harris ran FTCh Koram Jemma Sparkfield (Scarlet) the pointer he owns jointly with Maria Jacques, against Mark Adams’ Irish setter FTCh Ballydavid Spitfire. This pair fairly set the heather alight with some beautiful, fast quartering before having a joint find on a scattered covey. Mark’s setter worked out the first few birds while the pointer waited, then Terry took over to lift the rest of the covey. It would be hard to imagine a better example of pointer and setter work: fast, stylish running followed by two absolutely rock solid points and a clean production of the grouse that were scattered about in the heather and rushes.
By the end of the round there were 17 dogs left in the stake: Five from the 22 that ran before lunch and 12 from the 20 that ran in the afternoon. Judge David Hall described the work of one (unnamed) dog as outstanding. ‘If you were shooting on a typical dogging moor with only a few grouse,’ he said, ‘Then any Gun would be happy just to watch that dog at work. And another dog of a different breed was almost as good,’ he added.
There were a couple of awards made after the first day’s work. Terry Harris and Scarlet took the Ladies Trophy for the Most Stylish Dog on the First Day of the Champion Stake and Gerry Devine’s English setter Ballyellen Tango took the BASC Towerbird Trophy for his work over the previous season.
Another cool, cloudy day greeted us for the second round of the Champion Stake with eight and a half brace still in contention. Back on the moor the Judges soon had things under way, working down a gentle slope into a valley bottom where a mixture of heather and rushes held the possibility of some tricky work for the remaining dogs. There were ample grouse as we saw when John Naylor’s FTCh Pointer Gerensary Starlight at Bitternboom and Mark Adam’s Irish setter FTCh Hunshigo Donald were both pointing birds almost as soon as they were cast off. Having worked out their points though their runs came to a quick end as a bird flushed behind them as they were recast.
More flushed grouse did for the next brace as well, then Carol Calvert really got among the birds with her English setter Gortinreagh Gala and handled a scattered covey with aplomb. Nicola Harris and John Naylor put up a good showing with her Gordon setter dog Clitters Teca and his pointer FTCh Goddrib Bari of Bitternboom, John’s pointer in particular making a superb job of lifting a covey in ones and twos from a bed of rushes where the birds were tucked in very tightly. Next to run was Terry Harris and FTCh Koram Jemma Sparkfield, braced with Roy Heath’s pointer Glencuan Molly, and once again Terry and Scarlet gave us a masterclass in birddog work, a stylish display of quartering ending with a point on a single bird. A couple more brace brought us to the end of the round and we waited while the Judges deliberated. Trial over? Or not?
At the end of the first day it seemed to me that the stake was Terry and Scarlet’s to lose. Was he nervous? I asked Terry the next morning. He shrugged. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘I’ve been here before.’ referring to his victories in the 2005 and 2007 Champion Stakes. I didn’t have time to ask him whether he was nervous when the Judges called back four dogs for an extension to the second round but if he wasn’t he must have ice water running through his veins. Terry and John Naylor ran the first brace of dogs, FTCh Ballydavid Spitfire and FTCh Goddrib Bari of Bitternboom then Terry’s daughter Nicola Harris and Gerry Devine followed up with the second brace: Clitters Teca and FTCh Gortinreagh Faith. It was nail-biting all round, for nothing could be worse than to lose out with a simple mistake after two rounds of great work by all four runners, but thankfully there were no disasters and the Judges announced that the trial was over.
A break for lunch, then there was an extra item on the program as the Kennel Club Derby Stake for puppies was run after being rained off two days previously, Colin and Julie Organ were the Judges and the sole award went to Richard MacNicol handling Laurent Hild’s pointer bitch Ardclinnis Judy of Morness. Then it was back to Bollihope for the awards and a delicious buffet laid on by our hosts.
The announcement that Terry Harris had taken the major prize with Scarlet (FTCh Koram Jemma Sparkfield) was clearly popular with the crowd. Judge David Hall thanked all the competitors and told us that it had been a very tight decision between Scarlet and runner-up John Naylor with FTCh Goddrib Bari of Bitternboom. For me, Terry and Scarlet were always the favourites after that magnificent first run, though all the dogs in the awards had to work hard under sometimes difficult conditions to claim their place. It is a long way from Drake winning that first Champion Stake 150 years ago, and there are many famous names etched onto the Heywood Lonsdale Trophy but there is no doubt that this year’s winner deserves to be right up there among them.
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28th & 29th July 2019
Bollihope Moor (by permission of Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum)
David Hall & Steve Lound (the designated third Judge Wilson Young was indisposed)
- 42 (23 dogs and 19 bitches)
- 15 Pointers
- 12 Irish Setters
- 10 English Setters
- 5 Gordon Setters
David Renton & Sam Faulkner
Terry Harris & Maria Jacques – Pointer Bitch FTCh Koram Jemma Sparkfield, handled by Terry Harris.
John Naylor – Pointer dog FTCh Goddrib Bari of Bitternboom.
Nicola Harris – Gordon setter dog Clitters Teca.
Gerald Devine – English setter bitch FTCh Gortinreagh Faith.
Diploma of Merit
Carol Calvert – English setter bitch Gortinreagh Gala.
Bill Connolly – Irish setter dog Sheantullagh Djouse.
Mark Adams – Irish setter dog FTCh Ballydavid Spitfire.
John Naylor – Pointer dog FTCh Goddrib Bari of Bitternboom.