This time its Personal!
When Autumn arrives and the weather starts changing for the worse, dog shows - especially outdoor ones - start thinning out, so what do we have to look forward to?
Answer: All the finals of the stakes that have been held throughout the year; mainly at outdoor venues, sometimes in sunshine, sometimes in tents, while the rain has poured down or the wind has blown. Some of the heats and the dogs are just memories now, but come the finals and we are able to see what those promising dogs look like.
The first of the Finals is always Pet Plan and although it is only their eighth year they seem to have settled in as well as some of the older ones, and seem to have been around for much longer.
Their main asset is the venues they choose to hold the finals; everything seems more upmarket when you are in a castle or stately home. This year we made a return visit to Castle Ashby in Northampton, I think it was about four years ago when we were last here.
The entrance is through two lodge towers and then you approach the castle up a long straight drive where, if you have a vivid imagination like myself, you can see yourself in a coach and four, coachman cracking his whip and you sitting there surveying all your land, wearing the crinoline and bonnet as you arrive home from social occasion. Ah well, I can dream!
Morning coffee was served in one of the reception rooms and then it was through the window to the large marquee on the lawn. Yes, literally through the french window. I remember last time we were here that it poured with rain and the Pet Plan staff had to provide umbrellas to get everyone back from the tent without being soaked, but today the weather was bright and dry, although a bit nippy. But once in the tent the warm air heaters were on and everyone was very comfortable.
As with last year some people had been invited as spectators just to watch the competition, and so the two sides of the ring had a good audience.
Commercial Director Nick Poole welcomed everyone; he seems to have settled in well, this time last year he had only been with the company six weeks so it was all very new to him, but now he looks like an old hand. There were the other old hands there as usual, Keith Young and wife June who show manage everything so well, Andrew Brace doing the commentary in his usual relaxed way, Jill Peak and the rest of the Pet plan team that we see at championship shows working quietly in the background.
As usual there were three judges, all people who judge Best in Show at championship shows; I wonder how many more of these there are left before they have to start recycling? This year they were Zena Thorn Andrews, Clare Coxall and Michael Quinney.
This year there were 30 dogs - or to be correct 15 dogs and 15 bitches - as Three Counties has now joined the select gathering of championship shows that hold a heat. As they always choose a runner up at the shows this enabled the Beagle Newlin Kelsey to take the place of the Standard Poodle Ch. Pamplona Tina Turner at Piedmont, who had inconveniently come into season.
The large score board was up at the far end of the ring so we could keep track of the scores as the nimble young Pet Plan man ran up and down the ladder and each judge who was positioned on separate sides of the ring had their own score sheet and secretary to keep track of the points and make sure they were taken back to the end of the ring to be added together before being put on the board, although even with all those heads some of the addition had to be altered quickly as they realised that their mental arithmetic was not as good as that of some of us in the audience who had not had calculators at school!
All the dogs were brought into the ring one by one as Andrew introduced them and the three judges had an initial look at them all together as they filled all sides of the ring. Then out into their benching area to await their turn of the individual handling. As a matter of interest there were 10 Hounds, four Terriers, seven Gundogs, three Utility, three Working, two Toys, and one Pastoral.
First into the ring for Clare Coxall to handle was the winner of the dog class at Manchester, the Siberian Husky Suraliam Gandalf The Grey who then moved across to Zena who was positioned on the opposite side of the ring, while Clare started handling the second dog and Michael stood waiting his turn. Once the third dog came in everyone had something to do and it started flowing.
Some of the dogs were already champions and some came from well known breeders who we see regularly in these and similar competitions, such as the second dog in Lovaine Coxon's Min.Smooth Dachshund Ch. D'Arisca Cut A Dash, and the Norwich Terrier Ch. Ragus The Inquisition who had been a runner up three times in the POTY but qualified here on his first attempt. Mike Gadsby had bred three of the qualifiers but all were handled by their owners.
There were three breeds that were appearing for the first time, the SCWT Kariskiye Kyanite Kizmet, Aus. Shepherd, Applethorns Antique Gold At Meitza and the ETT Sobahn Black Bonnet at Witchstone.
The judges awarded points for Conformation and Type each up to a maximum of ten and after the dogs had all been seen the winner on those points was the Akita bitch Ch. Ruthdales Personal Vendetta who had qualified at Manchester under Geoff Corish who was not there on the day.
Each dog was then brought back into the ring for all three judges to assess movement again; each judge could award a maximum of ten points. When these points were posted on the board there were six dogs with the highest points so they were called back into the ring.
In first came the saucy little Smoothcoat Chi. Ch. Dachidas Master Angel who has 20 CCs, five Groups and three Res B.I.S. at Championship shows, he qualified at Windsor under Terry Thorn. Then came the Norwich Ch. Ragus The Inquisition with four CCs who qualified at Birmingham under Bryn Cadogan. They were the only two dogs so then followed the bitches led by the Akita Ch. Ruthdales Personal Vendetta, with four CCs and two BIS at breed club shows. Then the Cocker Spaniel Sh.Ch. Charbonnel Lynette JW who has four CCs and qualified at Leeds under Anne MacDonald; her sire Warlord was 4th in these finals in 2000.
Following her came the Am. Cocker Spaniel Afterglow Colour Me Cute For Nasailleen who qualified at Bournemouth under Marion Spavin who was ringside. The last bitch in was the Dalmatian Haiths Hallmarked By Sophtspot who had been the last finalist to qualify as she came from the Belfast heat and was sent through by Ernie Paterson who was also ringside supporting her.
The reason there were six left in instead of the usual five was because there had been two lots of ties and so now each one had one point added for getting so far and then the judges had the difficult task of awarding up to three points each to each dog for Star Appeal. They were each moved and shown again and while the others were moving the Chihuahua and the Dalmatian entertained us with a few playful antics.
As with last year, even at this stage it was not a foregone conclusion as the highest points were 78 down to 67 so it could still alter either way.
Keith Young finally went over to Andrew and as usual asked if the mike was off before informing him that again like last year there was a tie for one of the positions. Without telling us which position the Dalmatian and the American Cocker were asked to step forward and the judges re-assessed them, and then Andrew put us and the exhibitors out of our misery as soon as the points were passed to him.
In first place was the Akita who like the Peke last year had held that position from the first points, followed by the Norwich Terrier; in third spot the Cocker Spaniel then the Am. Cocker with fifth to the Dalmatian; the Chi. was asked to follow on as they went around the ring before being presented with their awards by Nick Poole. This year there was no silver collar but they seemed to have plenty of goodies, as did the judges who came away with large hampers. Nick gave thanks to all the team from Keith down and they all received very good gifts for their hard work.
As the photographers moved into the ring to take the usual mass of photos, the rest of us went out into the sunshine and back into the drawing room for champagne before lunch which, due to the numbers, was split into two rooms. As usual the food and the company was excellent and later in the day we all departed, very relaxed, having seen some good dogs, had some interesting conversation without the niggles that often occur at shows, in fact a good dog day. Until we all hit the Friday afternoon traffic on the motorways!
Petplan are to be congratulated on the lovely venues they choose to hold this final which is now one of the Must Be There's of the dog social calendar.