Agility Stakes Semi-Finals
There was just time to fill the washing machine, unpack & re-pack the caravan after a very successful week at Dogs in Need, before the Pedigree "wagon train" found itself up & rolling again. It was hot and sunny at Stoneleigh but the holiday atmosphere we'd all enjoyed at Suffolk was somehow missing. Tension and nerves now filled the air - with a place at the Olympia finals at stake - this was serious business!
Due to the foot and mouth crisis, the Royal Show, which normally plays host to the first semi-finals, had been cancelled. The qualifying rounds themselves had also been affected with many cancellations. After some deliberation, Pedigree decided to hold three semi finals instead of the usual six, with thirty-six semi finalists in each. The top ten from each semi would then be invited to the finals in December.
Our judge for all three days was Rob Hunter. Rob, best known for his outstanding stage performances and Suffolk bacon rolls, found himself 'suited & booted' for this most important judging appointment. This is the second time Rob has officiated over the semi finals and once again he did an excellent job. His courses were very well received and provided us with some exciting agility.
Saturday - Semi final one
We normally have fifteen dogs and handlers on their way to Olympia by the time the Town & Country arrives. This year however that luxury hadn't been afforded to anyone, for some of our more successful handlers, this was their first time at this very popular show. For many this was there only chance too, which added even more pressure to what is always a very tense affair.
The Pedigree Agility Stakes Semi-finals always begin with a warm up run in the morning, followed by the event proper in the afternoon. The morning's winner was the very much on form Alan Bray and his super little WSD, Tigger. They took the class apart - some two seconds clear of the field. Unfortunately for Alan, Tigger's exuberance in the semi final was rewarded with an uncharacteristic elimination but such has been their consistency this year, they still had more chances on Sunday and Monday.
All the 'big guns' were here and we knew the competition would be keen. At the end of the competition we had 16 clear rounds, none quicker than Lesley Olden and Loobie. With two tickets under her belt and well on the way to becoming the first agility champion, their third ticket would gain them entry to the Olympia finals (As reported in last week's OD, Loobie has since won her third ticket, becoming the first ever agility champion - Ed). It was poetry in motion and Lesley was delighted, clear in 34.34.
Rob Hunter had included a 'down and go' table in all his course, which would have filled our second placed dog and handler with fear. For years we all watched in agony as Stuart Harmes, try as he might, could not keep Trim down for more than three seconds. no trouble here however - they had a 'stormer', clear in 34.58 and second place.
The current KCJO Agility Dog of the Year, Crazy Maesy's Flippin Ada proved they were worthy of their title when her round of 34.77 gained them the third qualifying position. I really admire Natasha's handling, she reads a course so well and just lets the dog do the work - no fuss, no bother - well done.
The first dog to win the newly created championship agility class was Pat Brown's Ladbrook Iz It Dodgy. Another lady whose handling is a joy. Dodge dog has really matured this year and is on top form. Their clear round of 34.78 today was rewarded with fourth place.
For the first time ever Britain is sending a team to the World Championships in Aporto, Portugal this October. A member of this prestigious team is Jo Rhodes with the infamous Moravia Red October. One of the most prolific agility winners in recent times, Jo is in wonderful form at the moment scooping three major titles in just weekend - the Pedigree Biskrok Gamblers Final, the Pedigree Advanced Power & Speed Final and along with Nicky Garratt the Agility Voice Pairs title. Perhaps they might just add the Pedigree Agility Stakes title to their total this year, when they achieved fifth place with a super clear round in 34.88.
Sixth place was given to Sarah Jayne Davies and her WSD, High Frequency, 'Taffy' has always been in the shadow of Sarah's fantastic merle Kizzie but this was Taffy's day. At nine years old, I think he is working better now than ever. Just a late maturer eh Sarah?! Clear in 35.10.
Another junior handler holding his own in any competition is Lee Gibson. Lee always gives 110% when running any course and that effort was rewarded when Rory, foot perfect, gave him a clear round in 36.61 - seventh place and his first ever place at the Olympia finals.
We get quite used to seeing our eighth placed pairing at the other end of the leader board - Greg Derrett and Jaycee Sprogglett. Greg was more than pleased however with his place today . As twice previous winners of the grand final, this run today secured another Olympia place. Greg and his other BC Fern are also members of the British Agility team and we wish them every success in October. Clear 36.11.
Bridget Fletcher and her WSD Tod at their first semi final showed more experienced pairings the way to go. She was absolutely thrilled when Dave announced their round of 36.15 had achieved ninth place and a trip to Olympia.
The final place was given to another very experienced pair - Gwyn Roberts and Moonlight Mystic Master. Tag, now eight has done Gwyn proud over the years and although not the fastest clear, it was foot perfect and thoroughly deserved - clear 36.56. One down, two to go...
Sunday - Semi final two
With a lot of fancied favourites through, we wondered if the competition was going to be a little easier on the day. We couldn't have been more wrong - we saw some fantastic rounds of agility which kept us all on the edge of our seats throughout.
Having just been pipped into second place in the morning run by her litter sister - Rudyard Becky went one better in the afternoon. It was a storming round guided by her handler Don Cooper. Becky is the daughter of Don's famous WSD 'Daley' and she is certainly is a chip of the old block. Well done Don and all the best in the finals, clear 34.38..
Pushing Don to the limit was another member of the British Agility team, Terry Insull and Magical Madge. An unfortunate five on the previous day was not repeated when they crossed the finish line clear in 34.96 and second place.
Fresh from his Pedigree Senior Classic win last week of the Dogs in Need, Charlie Wyatt and Pepper were on top form. A member of the very successful Rugby DTC their clear 35 second dead gave them third place and a place at their first Pedigree Agility Stakes Final, well done Charlie.
Another pair doing well at the moment took fourth place. Adam Froggatt and Astra Dee, a young Collie just three years old but getting better and better. Dee was competing at advanced level as a two year old and with Alan's sympathetic handling could do very well in December. Clear 35.09 - fourth place.
In a very colourful shirt and a performance to match, Stuart Carter and Kapia Konquest made it all look very easy. Stuart and his lovely red and white have really come together this year and their round of 35.13 secured them fifth place.
For an unbelievable 20th time Mary Ray will delight the audiences at Olympia - this time with her wonderful WSD - Od Ch Lunarlite Lady in Red. Kizzie's granddad was Mary's first dog at Olympia - Mr Chips. Kizzie will be Mary's sixth and she has done the family proud. She's become a force to be reckoned with this year, both in agility and obedience and is definitely in her prime - let's hope she can finish the year with the 'big one'. Clear 36.12
Having taken first place in the invitation run this morning Denise Williams and Rudyard by Daley Tadge were in confident mood. Not quite able to match their previous run, their round of 36.12 was still good enough, seventh place.
Neil Bowery and Wizzy gave us our eighth place with a clear round in 36.62, another dog now in his prime gaining second place in the Pedigree Advanced Power & Speed final at the Agility Club Show.
Running first in any competition is never easy - in a Pedigree semi final it's agony! Julie Person and another Lunarlite - this time Shade of Moonlight gave it their all and I'm sure were absolutely delighted that by the time all thirty six 'runners and riders' had finished she was in ninth place. Well done Julie & Shade, clear 36.67.
A delighted Graeme MacGregor and trim gave our 10th and final place in the day's semi final. Trim had unfortunately retired from the morning's run when he knocked a toe. Happily an ice pack, some physio and few prayers later he was 'sound as a pound'. Well done Graeme, we were holding our breath - good luck in the finals.
Monday - Semi final three
Last chance alley! The tension today was almost unbearable, for many it was their last chance but for a few, their third and final.
The invitation warm up was a very straightforward course but out the 36 rounds, only six were clear, none faster than Lynne ward and Flicka. It would be a tense day and the afternoon's run couldn't come quick enough.
If Alan Bray and Tigger could go clear, we wondered who would be second. Alan and this super little tri-coloured Collie had had such bad luck over the last couple of days - I'm sure he wondered whether they would be able to crown what has been a superb year, with a trip to Olympia. They had been favourites from day one but such is the nature of this competition that nothing can be taken for granted. You could hear a pin drop when they ran today - we were all holding our breath until he cleared the last jump. Clear in 32.74, and the crowd exploded.
Our second place pairing - Sally Prevett and Touchango Gemma always seem to pull it out of the bag and this day was no exception. With 100% concentration Sally guided Gemma, her very pretty, fast Collie to perfection. Clear 33.19
Having had a go on Saturday, Sue Frazier, another past winner of Olympia, was determined to join her peers. With a very fast spotted 'missile' to guide, the task ahead would not be easy. Fern, however, was foot perfect and recorded our third clear round in 33.29.
I'm sure Chris Bolton is a very proud 'Mum' as another Lunarlite made this year's Olympia line-up. Sharon Eldridge and Lunarlite Midnight Eclipse made what was proving very difficult for some, very easy. Handling from a distance Buzz, responded instantly to Sharon's signals. Well done, clear in 34.22
Alan Stiff and Leaping Lady had also been here on the previous day and hoped their journey would be more fruitful. Tess was far more in tune this time and gave Alan a lovely run - clear in 34.55 and fifth place.
Eleanor Balchin, although not old in years is a very experienced handler, cutting her teeth on the mini circuit during the 1990's. Her expertise as a trainer and handler showed through today when they secured sixth place with a clear in 34.72.
A long journey for our seventh pair was well worth the early start. Patie Jary who now resides 'up north', managed to keep her BC, Moonlight Polstar on track around this course to record clear in 34.75. It may not have broken any world records but it was certainly good enough.
Nancy Hudson who'd had the quickest time on day two but with five faults, made sure Abbey was faultless on day three. She was third in the finals in 1998 and was delighted that their round in 35.04 would again give them a chance to perform in the grand arena.
Another name synonymous with Olympia is this year's Crufts judge Bill Chuter. Called in as a reserve for the day's proceedings he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass him by. With a slight stumble before that last jump (yet again!), which made us all gasp, he recorded the last clear round of the day in 35.50 and ninth place.
The most precious 10th and very last place of 2001 was awarded to a very precious lady. Traci Gaunt has for years supported many of the handlers at the semi's and final. She's never quite made it herself - always quite happy to be there for everyone else, no matter what. Well Trevor and Traci, this was your day, and I can't think of a nicer person for this opportunity to happen to. Enjoy your moment - 5 faults in 32.14.
Once again agility's principle sponsor - Pedigree Masterfoods, supported these most prestigious championships. We are indebted to them for their continued support of what must be one of the world's greatest agility finals. Ann Roberts
Results of the three days in full
Semi Final One 1 Lesley Olden, Waggerland Woosh of Nedlo; 2 Stuart Harmes, Trelogan; 3 Natasha Wise, Crazy Maesy's Flippin Ada; 4 Pat Brown, Iz It Dodgy; 5 Jo Rhodes, Moravia Red October; 6 Sarah -J Davies, High Frequency; 7 Lee Gibson, Rory Bilbatch Ratchup; 8 Greg Derrett, Jaycee Sproglett; 9 Bridget Fletcher, What A Little Tod; 10 Gwyn Roberts, Moonlight Mystic Master.
Semi Final Two 1 Don Cooper, Rudyard Becky; 2 Terry Insull, Magical Madge; 3 Charlie Wyatt, Tyefold Red Pepper; 4 Adam Froggatt, Astra Dee; 5 Stuart Carter, Kapia Konquest; 6 Mary Ray, Lunarlite Lady in Red; 7 Denise Wilkinson, Rudyard by Daley Tadge; 8 Neil Bowery, Wizzy the Wizard; 9 Julie Person, Lunarlite Shade of Moonlight; 10 Graeme MacGregor, Nice Tri Trim.
Semi Final Three 1 Alan Bray, Lunarlite Selenas Tigger at Upanova; 2 Sally Prevett, Touchango Gemma; 3 Sue Frazier, Forever Fern; 4 Sharon Eldridge, Lunarlight Midnight Express; 5 Alan Stiff, Leaping Lady; 6 Eleanor Balchin, Fantastic Elastic; 7 Patie Jary, Moonlight Polstar; 8 Nancy Hudson, karridor Quick Step; 9 Bill Chuter, Todd the Minstrel; 10 Traci Gaunt, Wenya Ready Trevor.