Sweet suc­cess for Rollo

FTCH Kil­ton­beck Rollo, “the dog that has ev­ery­thing”, left his ri­vals be­hind to win the Cocker Spaniel Cham­pi­onship. Matt Cross re­ports

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - HIGHLAND STALKER -

Tol­lishill, the Duke of Northum­ber­land’s es­tate in the Scot­tish Bor­ders, was the venue for the Ken­nel Club’s 89th Cocker Spaniel Cham­pi­onship. The an­nual fix­ture, which is held in as­so­ci­a­tion with Skin­ner’s, is the world’s premier event for cocker spaniels, draw­ing han­dlers from the length and breadth of the UK and spec­ta­tors from all over the world. I shared my break­fast with a han­dler from New South Wales in quest of a dog that could han­dle bram­bles.

Wil­son Young, whose com­pany Eskdale Shoot­ing Ser­vices stepped in late in the day to pro­vide the ground for the trial, ex­plained the event’s ap­peal: “These dogs are head and shoul­ders above any oth­ers in the world; this is ef­fec­tively the World

Cup for cocker spaniels.”

I ar­rived for day two of the cham­pi­onship, act­ing as a last-minute re­place­ment for a proper gun­dog cor­re­spon­dent who was un­able to at­tend. The cham­pi­onship had opened with 42 dogs com­pet­ing, but by the fi­nal day the list had been short­ened to slightly more than half that num­ber.

The com­pe­ti­tion be­gan in a long glen lined with bracken and heather; the sides were steep and the cover was bro­ken with patches of stones. The win­ter cold had knocked the bracken down far enough that the dogs were clearly vis­i­ble as they worked.

Dif­fer­ent level

The first dogs to run were the Ir­ish cham­pion Gar­den­rath Cadil­lac, han­dled by Adrian Doris, and FTCH Bish­well Bar­cud, a dog owned and han­dled by Welsh­man Stuart Mor­gan. It was soon ap­par­ent that these were dogs on a dif­fer­ent level from any

I had seen be­fore.

They hunted with sys­tem­atic in­ten­sity, quar­ter­ing, turn­ing and stop­ping on the whis­tle with pin­point pre­ci­sion. The Ir­ish bitch was the first to get a flush and com­plete a re­trieve. After re­triev­ing two hen pheas­ants, her place was taken by Trochry Eau Rouge of Pool­green, han­dled by twotime win­ner Will Clulee.

As the dogs and han­dlers worked up the glen, rab­bits and wood­cock ap­peared, pre­sent­ing their own dis­tinct chal­lenges. Some dogs rose to those chal­lenges and some did not.

The first dog to really shine was Sam Thatcher’s two-year-old bitch FTCH Wind­withe Soli­taire of St­rigi­dae, who put in a daz­zling dis­play of hunt­ing. She poured her heart and soul into work­ing the cover, go­ing flat and out with her nose to the ground. Even­tu­ally the bracken ran out, but a spell on the lead as the line was re­lo­cated to the other side of the glen did noth­ing to dent the young bitch’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to find game.

Wounded par­tridge

Her re­wards were a chal­leng­ing re­trieve on a wounded par­tridge that had landed well be­hind the line, and a rab­bit in front. Both were brought neatly to the han­dler and it was ob­vi­ous that, with de­ter­mined hunt­ing and ef­fi­cient re­triev­ing, the bitch was a se­ri­ous con­tender.

As the dogs and han­dlers moved higher into the glen, the cover nar­rowed and the game thinned out. The dogs were work­ing close to each other now, with the left-hand dog work­ing a band of bracken on the edge of the heather and the right-hand dog hunt­ing the damp ground and tus­sock grass lower down.

the field was slowly whit­tled down as dogs ei­ther com­pleted their runs or com­mit­ted one of the myr­iad faults that get a dog elim­i­nated.

as we climbed higher in the glen the lack of game on the higher ground was a huge chal­lenge for the dogs, but it also showed ex­actly what they were made of. Ftch Coun­try­ways Al­ice of Crai­warn, owned and bred by natalie Can­non, put in an as­ton­ish­ing dis­play of heart. the strik­ing red-and-white bitch hunted and hunted and hunted. She cov­ered as much ground as sev­eral of the ear­lier dogs put to­gether for no sign of a bird.

a more ex­pert trial cor­re­spon­dent would doubt­less have timed her run. i can only say that it was sev­eral times the length of any other dog’s. her de­ter­mi­na­tion and pace never slack­ened and when the cover even­tu­ally ran out, a break as the trial moved to a dif­fer­ent area did noth­ing to knock her con­fi­dence.

She hunted with won­der­ful spirit again and was re­quired to stop and restart a sec­ond time be­fore she found her bird. even­tu­ally she flushed a pheas­ant out of a mass of tall dead wil­lowherb stems and dropped to the flush but, ex­hausted by her ef­forts, she over­shot the re­trieve and had to be han­dled back to it. that proved to be one of the key mo­ments.

at the end of the day three bitches were called back for a run-off. By this point i had gath­ered a few kind and knowl­edge­able souls who kept me right. they were firmly of the opin­ion that this had to be a runoff for sec­ond, third and fourth place. the dogs called back were

Sam thatcher’s stylish young bitch, natalie’s de­ter­mined hunter and ian open­shaw’s classy black bitch Ftch En­dowood Clowne, who he de­scribed as “a bit of a hand­ful”.

the judges first matched Sam’s dog against ian’s. From high above on a hill­side ian’s dog seemed to have the edge, hunt­ing a tighter pat­tern and get­ting deeper into the cover, but when it was matched against nat’s dog it came up short, ap­pear­ing to refuse to hunt prop­erly. the run-off clearly sep­a­rated the three dogs, with ian open­shaw’s Ftch En­dowood Clowne be­ing awarded fourth place, Sam thatcher’s Ftch Wind­withe Soli­taire of St­rigi­dae com­ing third and the won­der­ful and de­ter­mined Coun­try­ways Al­ice of Crai­warn even­tual sec­ond.

guns’ choice also went to Wind­withe Soli­taire of St­rigi­dae. Jaseon atkin­son’s bitch Dako­ta­gun Ar­win was awarded the Peter hall tro­phy for the cocker with the most points in 2018.

Stand-out win­ner

the cham­pi­onship had seen many very fine dogs, but there was a stand-out win­ner. Ftch Kil­ton­beck Rollo, bred, owned and han­dled by Steve Win­spear, took the cham­pi­onship by storm. a de­ter­mined and stylish hunter and an in­tel­li­gent and ef­fi­cient re­triever, he left the com­pe­ti­tion be­hind.

Speak­ing after the trial, judge adrian Slater said: “Steve was a de­ci­sive win­ner; he had two good days. Steve’s dog had ev­ery­thing. on its first run it hunted and hunted; it had some tricky re­trieves which it made look easy — it went straight there and straight back.”

De­scrib­ing one of the cru­cial mo­ments of the day, adrian said:

“the dog was un­der a great amount of pres­sure. When the bird dropped about 10ft in front of it, it bounced about for a bit. the dog on the other side mis­marked it and shot straight past it. after 10 or 15 sec­onds we asked Steve to step to one side and call his dog away.”

the bal­ance of wild en­thu­si­asm for hunt­ing and per­fect con­trol and steadi­ness which a tri­alling spaniel needs was per­fectly ex­em­pli­fied by Steve’s dog — even a last-minute standin re­porter could see that.

“Ian’s dog seemed to have the edge, but when it was matched against Natalie’s dog it came up short”

FTCH Kil­ton­beck Rollo shows the tenac­ity and style that won him the 2019 Cocker Cham­pi­onship

Natalie Can­non and FTCH Coun­try­ways Al­ice of Crai­warn with judge An­drew Robin­son

Sharp shoot­ing from Jamie Smith kept the birds com­ing

L-R: Peter Han­nah of spon­sor Skin­ner’s, Natalie Can­non with FTCH Coun­try­ways Al­ice of Crai­warn, Steve Win­spear with FTCH Kil­ton­beck Rollo and Sam Thatcher with Wind­withe Soli­taire of St­rigi­dae

A run-off is an­nounced to de­ter­mine the run­ner-up places, to the de­light of the watch­ing gallery

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