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Darlene took the title in style!

Having attended the first Pup of the Year final and missed but a handful since, it gave me tremendous pleasure to be invited to judge the final this year.

In years gone by I was involved with the planning stages and so I know what efforts are always made to make this day special for everyone, especially the exhibitors and dogs of course, but also judge, visitors and indeed everyone taking part .

The visitors include people from the societies hosting rounds and the judges who sent through the finalists, which is only right because without them there would be no competition, never mind final. I have always been impressed by the quality of the pups we see each year. Judging puppies is not easy and I think that the standard does our judges great credit.

Over the years a number of different venues have been used, and each has had its advantages, and uniqueness, but I personally think that the Chesford Grange Hotel at Kenilworth has it all – a central position near main roads (and railway), easy access, good accommodation, parking, exercising areas, space and atmosphere.

The competition itself runs smoothly but without any excess hassle to anyone, but of course there is a very experienced team in charge, with Anne Bliss. Jim Peach and Ernie Paterson controlling the ring, and Dr Jessica Holm and Frank Kane as commentators.

There were 33 finalists but the Scottish Terrier decided the venue was unacceptable and was withdrawn, as was the Kerry Blue who was unwell. The Shiba Inu was delayed on the road while the Samoyed from Border Union had withdrawn earlier, allowing Whippet to compete.
The St Bernard, I believe, was in season so was kept at home, and that was known in time for the second at the Richmond heat, Mike Gadsby and Jason Lynn's Standard Poodle, to be present. This meant that Mike and Jason joined Michael Coad (Bichons) and Pete and Christine Sandiford (Gordon Setters) in having two finalists – a wonderful achievement – and in addition Mike and Jason bred a third finalist.

From the 30 competitors I shortlisted 11: Akita, Newfoundland, Bichon bitch, Whippet, Lakeland, Gordon Setter, Norwegian Buhund, Beagle, Wire Fox Terrier, Standard Poodle and American Cocker. And this still meant that several very worthy finalists left the ring without further recognition.

I next whittled these down to five: Bichon Ch Pamplona Could It Be Magic; Whippet Nevedith Pfa Princess; Beagle Ch Fallowfield Darlene; Wire Fox Terrier Travella Special Feature; and American Cocker Afterglow Dial M For Murder.

Beagles have a very special place in this competition as Kerry Williamson pointed out in her speech later, but this year was all about Christine Lewis' Darlene who took the title in style. This beautiful lemon and white bitch has a lovely head and eye, is so well made with good body, bone and muscle, is sound moving and enjoys herself so much. Indeed her puppy naughtiness (she is now 17 months old) is a part of her charm.

She even bewitched the stately, well behaved Wire Fox Terrier, Special Feature, owned by Richard Allen and bred by Billy Browne-Cole. He was in great form, again a lovely head, full of expression and a good mover. His coat and furnishings were also just right.

I loved Editha Newton's feminine Whippet bitch. She is such a good shape and a pleasing size. Michael Coad's Bichon bitch also pressed all the way. She has great presence and is so well balanced. Finally the American bitch owned and bred by Michael Gadsby, Jason Lynn and Gilda Rix. She was the youngest at just under nine months and again it was wonderful to see such a promising, quality puppy behave like a puppy showing her character. I believe it was only the second time she has been shown.

I must thank Purina ProPlan and Dog World for a wonderful start to the 2009 show year.

Ferelith Somerfield

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