Mixed emotions at the National
FOUR extremely pleasant days were spent judging at Birmingham National when the weather was kind to us and the Stone House hotel proved a comfortable base where I thought the food had improved noticeably. The society has a new president in Keith Young who stepped into the role following the death of fellow Golden Retriever expert Meriel Hathaway, and for me the Friday was a day of mixed emotions as I had to judge both sexes of Goldens, knowing full well that Meriel was responsible for my receiving the invitation.
Tony Foulston as chairman, secretary Jennie Griffiths and treasurer Julie Wall head a hard-working and relatively young committee while Gary Hinsley as show manager and chief steward Nick Gourley make sure that the show runs like clockwork.
Thursday was a relatively easy day for me with just Deerhounds as a breed and then the well-filled Good Citizen Scheme class for the day.
In Deerhounds the CC and BOB was won by Ch Hyndsight Desperado, fully mature and excelling in type who moved well and was in splendid condition. Reserve to him was the younger and less finished Ch Rubeus Hagrid to Kilbourne who has so much scope and I suspect if I were judging in a year’s time the positions may well be reversed.
In bitches there was the start of some interesting family connections as the CC went to the winner of junior, Greyflax Lady Sings The Blu’s, almost 17 months old, yet despite her immaturity I felt she stood away – especially on the go-around when she really thrilled me. She has a classic outline and although she was superbly muscled up she needed a little more bodyweight to finish the picture.
Reserve to her was the Finnish import, Blixten Star to Kilbourne, who really impressed when she settled. I was interested to see that she is sired by a dog from the von Oelmuhle kennel in Germany (even more famous for its Irish Wolfhounds) and out of a bitch bred by Juha Kares of the legendary Chic Choix kennel, one of the cleverest breeders of our generation and someone who certainly has green fingers as it seems that he can produce top quality whatever breed he goes into.
Of the puppies two really exciting minor puppies of not quite seven months battled it out for best, Tiobraid Solo Venture to Kilbourne edging ahead of his litter sister, Tiobraid One In A Million. Interestingly they are by the same sire as the bitch CC winner, Kilbourne Tyne, who won his class on the day. Solo Venture later acquitted himself well in the big ring by taking second in a very strong hound puppy group under Marita Rodgers behind the lovely Dialynne Beagle bitch who won the CC when I judged the breed at Manchester earlier in the year.
I thought that the quality of the dogs competing in the Good Citizen class was extremely high and the winner proved to be the Pharaoh Hound, Ch Kurriera Orlando at Lyncris, who had also won BOB under Mike Caple on the day. He is so beautifully schooled, was in marvellous condition and throws out a classic outline.
Judging the Golden Retrievers on Friday was something of a marathon and took the whole day, even with just a brief sandwich break between dogs and bitches. I thought of Meriel a lot as I was ploughing through the classes and hope she was looking down approvingly.
I found the overall quality to be quite pleasing and while there were still several dogs that I considered to be too short on leg for correct balance, I was able to find enough dogs that were of pleasing proportions for the major awards. In males I assumed that, at the end of open dog, the class winner – Sh Ch Gunhills Mighty Quin – would be my CC winner, but I hadn’t bargained on the veteran dog, Sh Ch/Ir Sh Ch Gunhills January Master, being in such great form for his past ten years. I first judged him at Three Counties when he won a huge stakes class under me, then when I judged the breed in Belfast a few years ago he was my reserve CC winner. At Stafford I felt he looked as good as ever, he was on his toes, his gently wagging tail never stopping and his movement was exceptional. So he took the CC ahead of the open dog, both having the same lucky owner, who I learnt afterwards doesn’t breed. She has certainly been fortunate to buy two such exceptional dogs from the Gunhills kennel.
There were some beautiful bitches competing but I had one of those goosebumps moments when junior came in and I saw the loveliest youngster just float across the ring. When you have that feeling you can’t wait to get your hands on the dog in question and pray that its mouth is okay and it can walk! Thankfully the hands-on was as thrilling and I felt that at just 12-and-a-half months here was something very special. She then came into yearling – quite a risk given her age – but she also won that class. In the challenge I seriously thought about awarding her the big green card (I have never been worried about giving youngsters top honours when I considered them the best) but in fairness the lovely open winner, Sh Ch/Ir Sh Ch Abinvale Mystic River, at rising seven years had the advantage of total maturity and pleased me standing and moving. She had travelled over from Ireland and intriguingly – like the two top winning males – has a Gunhills dam.
However, the reserve CC went to the precocious youngster, Perfect Princess By Moon of Sunshine’s Valley, who had apparently travelled with her owner/breeder/handler from Belgium. Speaking to her owner afterwards I gather she was persuaded to enter for the National by a friend who wanted to exhibit Labradors and needed some company for the journey. Nathalie Vermander agreed and had hoped she might be able to qualify her lovely young Golden bitch for Crufts. Well, her reserve CC gave her lifetime qualification and her Kennel Club Stud Book number.
Interestingly, when the photograph of Perfect Princess that appears in this column was seen on Facebook there was a deluge of complimentary comments, and what impressed me was that many of them came from leading handlers and judges in the US. This proves to me again that there are many people in the States who appreciate Golden Retrievers that may not be out of the preconceived ‘American Golden’ mould.
When it came to BOB the marvellous veteran male never let up for a moment
Of the puppies, Best was a lovely 11 months bitch, Lamancha Keep A Secret, who won all three of her classes and in so doing apparently completed the points for her junior warrant – quite an achievement at that age in such a numerically strong breed.
At the end of the day I must admit I was rather tired but I hope Meriel had approved of my results.