It was with great pleasure that I accepted Pedigree’s invitation to judge the Finals of their prestigious Champion Stakes, and I thank them for their hospitality over the weekend. by Andrew H Brace
From a judge’s standpoint, this has to be one of the most difficult appointments on the circuit. All the dogs competing are, by definition, established winners, some of whom have won top honours under the judge of the Finals, others having possibly not fared so well. Consequently the form books are understandably working overtime in the run-up to the event, and it is therefore essential to try one’s best to free the mind of preconceived ideas.
As the overall standard of dogs competing was customarily high, I approached the event determined to find the dog that gave me the best overall package – type, quality, condition and performance on the day being taken into account. This was never going to be an easy decision and hairs would inevitably have to be split.
As last year’s Dog of the Year, the American Cocker Spaniel Sh Ch Afterglow Douglas Fashion, has now begun his campaign in the USA he was the only absentee of the 25 qualified dogs, and my first cut contained exactly half the competitors, which was an indication of the level of competition, and some who failed to make that first cut could just as easily have stayed in the frame longer on another day.
The selected dozen were: the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Ch Stormpike Dark Lord; the Dobermann, Ch Talacre Vysans Boy at Supeta; the Chow Chow, Ch Foillan Finesse; the Tibetan Terrier, Ch Araki Fabulous Willy; the Giant Schnauzer, Ch Jafrak Philippe Olivier; the Griffon Bruxellois, Ch Donzeata Royal Tapestry; the St Bernard, Ch Chandlimore Hold Your Horses; the Saluki, Ch Mabrooka Jayid; the Norfolk Terrier, Ch Jaeva Gold Auric; the Gordon Setter, Sh Ch Hernwood California Girl; the Wire Fox Terrier, Ch Fairwyre Colleen; and the Beagle, Ch Fallowfield Delilah.
With 12 excellent dogs left, the hard work began and we had a huge ring to see which of the dozen were going to rise to the occasion. Every dog had its supporters, some more vocal than others, and after plenty of movement I came up with a final five. Each of the five was moving steadily and excelled on the go-around, and so I had to get into details.
Mentally I eventually decided that the final decision would be between two – the Giant Schnauzer and the Gordon Setter. It is no secret that I have long been an admirer of Philippe since I first saw him as a raw puppy and previously he has topped both the breed and group under me. He fits the Standard well and as always was in superb condition, both for muscle tone and coat.
Some days he can be a little careless coming on, but his rear drive and effortless profile always impress. Today on the up-and-down he was as controlled and true as I have ever seen him, he was up on his toes and did not put a foot wrong.
The Gordon was one of the Champions that I cannot consciously recall having seen before, but she made a huge impact. To go over she was an absolute joy, with everything fitting beautifully together, her coat simply shone and on the move her footfall was entirely accurate, covering the ground with ease and power. She was the dog who I thought was going to worry the Giant most but in the final analysis I felt she could perhaps have had a little more detail in head, yet even so the overall package was thrilling.
Thus it was that after a final circuit of the ring the Giant was placed First and the Gordon second. I understand that, at rising five, the Giant has now retired from active competition and what a way to finish – right at the very top.
For Third place I chose the Tibetan Terrier. I’ve never had him in the breed, and at group level he has achieved minor placings under me, but I have never seen him look better than he did today.
His coat seemed to fit him better than it has done, and his breeder handled him at exactly the right pace which made him a serious contender on the move. I would still like him to have a little more development of chest to be picky, but today his outline impressed me more than ever, and his presentation was flawless. I felt on the day he warranted this excellent placing.
Fourth was the Beagle. She won the CC and BIS under me at the parent club’s show last year and continues to appeal to me because of her perfect size and balance, her impeccable topline and set on and she has the most exquisite headpiece and soft expression. At one point she lost concentration coming at me, but soon she regained composure and has the loveliest bone and feet. Even in this level of competition she deserved a serious placing.
Fifth was the St Bernard who I found extremely promising when he was my BP the first time I awarded CCs in the breed. He has developed into a handsome and upstanding dog, heavily timbered and yet he retains a certain agility, which is clearly visible on the move. He is good to go over, and whilst some purists may like a little more work in his head it is essentially typical and he has clear expressive eyes. On the day he was a little out of coat, which eased the challenge, but his overall excellence made him a more than worthy placer, completing a very satisfying quintet.
I so enjoyed the day and was delighted with the final line-up.