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Agility thrills the Christmas crowds at Olympia’s show
- Special Report by Dave Ray

For the past twenty four years, the Pedigree Agility Stakes has provided the equestrian event of the year with performances that have consistently captivated audiences and raised the roof off this wonderful Grand Hall. It has also given the agility fraternity a competition that has us travelling the length and breadth of the country in an attempt to realise the ultimate dream – to win a Pedigree Agility Stakes Final.

Thursday 19 December 2002

As stated in previous articles, our judge for this year was Mr Barrie Harvey. One of the country’s most experienced judges, this appointment completes a full set for Barrie having now officiated at all the major finals. He had obviously given serious thought to his course designs – all ten requiring speed, control and athleticism and a good run home. They were well received by all the competitors, and the spectators - well they had a ball, as Barrie’s comments reiterate:

"What a day! The whole atmosphere was electric and the noise from the ecstatic crowd at times was so loud – it drowned out the handler’s commands. The first event - a pairs relay - although not giving us any double clears, produced a foot stomping start to this year’s event. Lynne Ward and Terry Insull took the first pieces of crystal. Although Lynne’s Flika hesitated before the table at the changeover and Terry’s Madge rolled the first pole, they still had the speed to beat all the others.

"The evening was something else - a speed relay and what speed! The course was approx. 200 metres long and was being completed in just over 26 seconds - phenomenal! Adam Froggett running Helen Nelson’s cross bred "Bobby Longlegs" took the roof off Olympia. He set off like a sprinter out of starting blocks in hot pursuit of the dog. With Bobby foaming at the mouth and covering the ground like a "black gazelle" they crossed the line clear to a crescendo of noise and took the spotlight as worthy winners of the fastest event of the championships."

I should also like to mention our fun dog Oscar - a wonderful big hairy deerhound handled by Cheryl Tustain. He really enjoyed every minute and kept the crowd amused whenever he appeared and was swamped with admirers every time he left the collecting area.

As with all Olympia Finals the unexpected always plays a part – this year unfortunately the victim was Simon Peachey and Forby for Turbo - Diesel. The evening before Olympia "Diesel" starting coughing! It has always been a dream of Simon’s to compete at these championships and with his dog in such good form he must have devastated. Still, it hasn’t been a bad year for this talented pair as they represented Great Britain in the World Championships in October and have enjoyed tremendous success on the circuit throughout the year. Your time will come Simon – he’s a cracking dog and young enough to grace the Olympia "turf " for many years to come.

Friday 20 December 2002

Pedigree Mini Pairs Relay
The turn of the minis to take centre stage and it was a very strong field. To start the proceedings the Pedigree Mini Pairs Relay entertained the packed arena with a delighted Sarah Ashmead running Clio and Jayne Bray with the infamous Porsche taking top honours.

Pedigree Mini Agility Stakes Final
The times at the semi finals back in September were extremely close, particularly the top five, and if everything went to form on the night it should make for an exciting competition. We were not disappointed as Barrie explains …

"Following on from their pairs victory, Sarah Ashmead and Clio started the evening off really well with a clear round in 42.35 seconds. She was followed by first timers at Olympia, Di Dunkley and Dandy who had ten faults –two contacts but a very fast time. The next three rounds from Carol Hughes and Choci, Keith Leslie with his Border Terrier "Peat" and Julia Parsons were all clear with Keith Leslie setting the best time of 38.75.

"Angela Sallis was the next to run but unfortunately got eliminated when she missed out the tyre. Lisa Bailey was also eliminated when the dog ran past the collapsible tunnel – the same fault they had occurred in the pairs relay earlier. Next to run was Mary Ray with Teena – Teena’s speed was breathtaking with superb running contacts but Teena got in front of Mary and they had a run by as did Chris Smith with Teasel.

"Last to go was Jayne Bray who was chasing Keith Leslie’s time of 38.75. Her little apricot poodle "Porsche" blasted round the course in a time of 37.53 – a bit of a twist and a turn on the run home but such is the calibre of this pair they took this year’s championship title by a clear one second margin.

"I was delighted for Jayne as this, apparently was Porsche’s swan song - she’s retiring to become a mum in the near future. She has been one of the best minis in the country over the last few years and the title was deservedly hers. What a way to finish Jayne –not a foot wrong all day and two wins - it has been an amazing career – you couldn’t have dreamed of a better ending – Congratulations! Well done indeed to all the mini handlers, you certainly gave the crowds a spectacular show tonight."

A good final but the unexpected Olympia errors were evident once again. The size of the course and the volume of noise caused the handling problems we so often see when running in this grand arena. With many mini courses nowadays fitting quite nicely onto a "postage stamp" it’s a bit of a shock to the system when you realise you really have to run and run fast. Handlers and dogs find themselves out of position, producing some of the errors witnessed tonight. The dogs however thoroughly enjoy the experience – I’m not so sure about the handlers though – as many needed an oxygen tank at the finish!

At a super champagne reception which followed, Jayne and Porsche were greeted and cheered by fellow competitors and friends. We were also joined by Tom Grant, Show and Breeder Services Manager for Pedigree, who congratulated our new champions and proposed a toast to their success. Dave Ray in turn thanked Tom and Pedigree for their continued support of this great mini event and all those involved in making it such a success.

Saturday 21 December 2002

Pedigree Agility Stakes Semi Final
What a change! From the celebrations the night before we were all brought firmly back down to earth for this very pressured and serious semi final. With Olympia unerringly quiet the 30 semi finalists walked the course in preparation for the competition ahead. Barrie had set a fair but testing course and with 30 of the best dogs in the country vying for the top eight positions we knew it would be an exciting and tense competition.

It was the type of course which suited those further down the running order as a couple of tricky places weren’t quite evident when walking the course and only appeared after the first few dogs had run. Someone has to be first however and this year the "honour" was bestowed on Kathy Napper and Magic Innuendo. They unfortunately suffered an elimination but it was soon followed by our first clear round combination of Jackie Gardner with Glen. A good round Jackie but not quite quick enough to make the final eight.

Lesley Olden, one of the most experienced handlers, had her work cut out when the normally "foot perfect" Loobie decided to ignore Lesley’s pleas to come with her to a jump and shot off in completely the wrong direction through the tunnel – Elimination!

Toni Lock had a good time but missed the dog walk and Paul Moore picked up ten faults for a flyer at the seesaw and a rolled pole.

Lynne Ward’s Flika had a brilliant clear knocking over two seconds off Jackie’s time to take the lead but Eleanor Balchin who followed came to grief over jumps 15 and 16. Janet Thrift who’s qualified her Border Collie Bekki in the breed ring at Crufts gave a super performance for her first time at these championships. A good clear, but just out of the final placings.

Natasha Wise had the dreaded first fence down, Dennis Macaulay also rolled a pole and had a flyer at the see-saw. Pat Brown, another very experienced handler, secured her place in the final with Dodge when they snatched the lead from Lynne by nearly half a second.

The Crazy Maesy team were here in force but unfortunately neither David Munnings or Iain Fraser could produce a much needed faultless performance. Adam Froggatt whose blistering run on Thursday had brought the house down missed the up on the dog walk.

Magical Madge lived up to her name when she gave Terry Insull a fault free run in a cracking time of 31.55 to now take the lead. Dave Alderson picked up fifteen faults closely followed by Phil Hicks who rolled a pole.

Alan Bray still reeling from his wife’s win in the mini final the day before made sure he was on course to make it a family double. A superb round in just over 31 seconds - she made it all look very easy – what a cracking little dog this is. Nicky Garrett followed Alan and not to be outdone guided Mac to another Olympia final with a faultless performance in little over the 32 second mark.

Lee Gibson and Rory as usual gave it their all but try as he might Lee couldn’t reproduce the run which gave them a finals place last year and picked ten faults. Steve Treamer and Tye, both Olympia "virgins" had a cracking run until they too came to grief at jumps 15/16. Wilf Rolfe and Nancy Hudson unfortunately both picked up eliminations.

Denise Wilkinson although clear with Tadge had a couple of wide turns and and with six dogs still to go their seventh place would be under threat. Tamara Hollands - but for a rolled pole - would definitely have made the final – a blistering round and what an exciting prospect this dog is. Amanda Williams and Deja Blue didn’t have an easy run and unfortunately finished with Blue running round the last jump.

The next dog up to the line was Dave Hurst’s – Woodsorrel Dashing Ruby. One of the most talented dogs I have ever seen during my time in agility but, as I’ve said before, disaster is never far away when they run. On the day Dave and Ruby did all the hard work, all the twiddly bits, the weaves, the contacts and then with two to go Ruby takes the wrong jump! The whole of Olympia was shaking its head in disbelief. Give her to Karrianna to run Dave – I don’t think my nerves can stand it anymore!

Sporting a very (well I’m not quite sure how to describe it) purple rinse hair do - Stuart Carter worked his Ag. Ch. Kapia Konquest every inch of the way to bring her home clear and fast as did our last pair to run Jo Rhodes and Ci. A very clever run from Jo as Ci had struggled a bit in the pairs on Thursday. She’s such a small dog that when she runs flat out she tends to flatten over the big equipment and roll the poles. Jo kept her short and bouncy for the semi and it paid off as they became our eighth and last finalist for tonight’s championship.

Saturday Afternoon

Pedigree Pairs Relay
We didn’t have much time after all the celebrations and commiserations from the morning, before we found ourselves centre stage once more. This was the last Saturday before Christmas and Olympia was packed with people in holiday spirit and full of Christmas cheer. Olympia erupted as soon as the first dog took to the course and the noise didn’t lessen until the last dog left the arena. The dream – part two – was still on for one lucky pair, Alan Bray and Tiggy ably assisted by Phil Hicks and Taz took their second piece of crystal today with a blistering pairs run. Could they make it three? Read on…

Pedigree Agility Stakes Final
This would be the 24th Pedigree Agility Stakes final and it continues to go from strength to strength – indeed dog agility featured in every performance for the first time this year such is its attraction.

The start of the tractor carrying the equipment is the signal we’d been nervously waiting for. The equipment was delivered into the ring and within minutes the course was set. The eight finalists had little time to walk the course before the bell rang to start the competition.

The atmosphere tonight was electric, with the crowd stamping their feet and Mike Tucker’s excellent commentary whipping them into a fanatical frenzy from start to finish. You have to be here to understand just what effect this atmosphere has on everyone concerned, be it judge, competitor or spectator – it really is something else.

This final is not for the feint hearted and requires focus and concentration; however, that’s easier said than done with eight thousand people cheering and clapping, as Barrie now reports:

"The atmosphere was crackling with electricity - the stands packed to capacity with people standing ten deep in the aisles. The arena looked amazing –spotlights, flowers, Xmas trees - the Premier equipment adorned with Christmas decorations and the handlers in their "Pedigree uniforms" A phenomenal backdrop to what I anticipated would be an explosive and exciting final.

"The evening final was run in reverse order from the semi final placing. First up was Shauna Lyons with Foxtwist Pandemonium from the Crazy Maesy stable. First time at Olympia, Shauna started the evening with a nice round 37.36 but unfortunately incurred a run by at the A frame. Well done Shauna – first time at Olympia and a run in the final and I’m sure it won’t be your last time.

"Next up was Jo Rhodes – Jo was always up against it after having the first jump down but Jo knew from experience that in a final anything can happen and kept it all together to put in a superb round of 34.67 seconds. Her five faults was good enough in this explosive atmosphere to give her third place overall. Well done Jo!

"Lynne Ward was unfortunately eliminated after obstacle three when Waggerland Flika veered to the right and took obstacle fifteen instead of carrying straight on after the tunnel.
She must have been disappointed – her run in the semi was superb – but Flika appeared a little distracted this evening which may have caused the error.

"Nicky Garrett has become one of the country’s top handlers over the last few years and put in a text book run. With Hocus Pocus - "Mac" burning up the cours,e they put in a stomping round of 33.33. Nicky had set the benchmark for the others and it would take some beating. I thought we had our winner…..

"Stuart Carter set off at a cracking pace but couldn’t turn the dog after four. Storm then took the A frame instead of the weaving poles giving us the second elimination of the night. Stuart raised his arms in the air in disbelief but then carried on in great style and received tremendous applause when he finished.

"Our third elimination came from Pat Brown who after successfully completing the dog walk took the next jump at speed. Unfortunately she couldn’t get Dodge tight enough to make the turn to the collapsible tunnel and took the wrong jump. I have to say Pat the noise was tremendous and the dog may have heard the command a little late.

"Eventual winner Terry Insull with Madge - our penultimate finalist put in a breathtaking clear round in 32.82 and brought Olympia to its foot stomping feet. This is the second time Terry and Madge have won this title and it was a privilege to be part of your success – many, many congratulations.

"Last to go were clear favourites Alan Bray and Tiggy but unfortunately the dream was not realised when Alan became disorientated before obstacle nine - the A frame. At the speed Tiggy was going there was little room for error and to the groans of the crowd she veered to the right and took jump sixteen. Although Alan didn’t take the title it had been a very successful two days for the Brays. Their first job in the New Year will to buy a new display cabinet for all their Pedigree Olympia trophies! "

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole final experience although I was disappointed for the four handlers who were eliminated – it would have been nice if they’d all gone clear but the finalists write their own story and it can’t always have a fairy tale ending. However, well done to each and every one of you for making the final – for many it’s something we can only dream about!

Once again we were treated to a champagne reception courtesy of Pedigree – the room was packed with well-wishers to greet our new champions. We were delighted that Sara Petit, Show Services Executive for Pedigree joined us to congratulate Terry and Madge and thanked everyone concerned for an entertaining and exciting final.

Next week:-

The International Pairs Relay • European Agility Cup Pedigree Team Flyball Event
- plus more action photos by Kit Houghton!