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
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.
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.
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.
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