Fieldsports Guide to Gundogs

The Pointer and Setter Champion Stake – a history

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Jon Kean looks at the history of the prestigious Pointer and Setter Champion Stake.

The Pointer and Setter Champion Stake is one of the most prestigious gundog events in the UK. The Champion Stake Roll of Honour, as recorded in the Kennel Club Stud Book, dates all the way back to 1869. That first event was held at Shrewsbury, on the estate of Sir Vincent Corbet on April 28 – 29. The judges were Viscount Combermere, Sir Vincent Corbet and Captain Denman.

They found their winner in Mr. R. Garth's pointer dog, Drake. Drake won the Champion Stake again in 1870 when it was run in two parts, the first for pointers and the second for setters. He made a sensational debut as a 12-month-old puppy in 1868 by winning the pointer puppy, the all-aged pointer and the brace stakes at the National Pointer and Setter Meeting. Apart from brace stakes, Drake was undefeated in any stake in which he ever competed until the age of 7½, after which he was bought by Mr. R. J. L. Price and changed handlers. He won the Kennel Club all-aged stake in 1875, his last success.

Mr. J. H. Walsh, once editor of The Field, recorded this tribute to Drake: “This dog was in his day the fastest and most wonderful animal that ever quartered a field, and his race up to a pair of birds at Shrewsbury in the field trials of 1868, when the ground was so dry as to cause a cloud of dust to rise on his dropping to their scent, was a sight that will probably never be seen again. He was truly a phenomenon among pointers. His extraordinary pace compelled his dropping in this way.”

Drake is the recorded ancestor of many Champion and Field Trial Champion pointers.

Recently, I have been studying the history of this great sporting event. For example, the title of Field Trial Champion was not introduced by the Kennel Club until December 1898, the Champion Stake was not promoted between 1901 and 1903, due to the Boer War, the First World War prevented its running between 1915 and 1920, and the Second World War meant there was no Champion Stake between 1940 and 1949.

Since 1939, the Champion Stake has been promoted on behalf of the Kennel Club by the International Gundog League (IGL) Pointer and Setter Society and the Scottish Field Trials Association (SFTA), in alternate years. The IGL host the Champion Stake at Bollihope Moor in County Durham and the SFTA stage the event at Byrecleugh Estate in the Scottish Borders. For many years, it was held at Lord Mansfield's Logiealmond Estate in Perthshire.

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Isaac Sharpe at his kennels in Keith, Scotland, c1930

Famous names appear on the Roll of Honour. The name of Isaac Sharpe appears three years in succession. A great sportsman and excellent Shot, Mr. Sharpe won the Champion Stake with his pointer dog Stylish Touchstone in 1921, 1922 and 1923. He had one of the largest kennels of pointers and setters in the world, converted from an empty distillery at Keith in Banffshire. British Pathé has some amazing film footage of the kennels, filmed in the 1930s, showing hundreds of pointers and setters being exercised by his trainers and kennel-men. At the time, Mr. Sharpe said: “It takes 10 carcases of beef, a tonne of biscuits, half a tonne of Indian meal, one tonne of potatoes and one tonne of turnips every week to feed this pack.”

The doyenne of the pointer world, Lady Jean Fforde, daughter of the 6th Duke of Montrose, won the Champion Stake in 1981 with her pointer dog FTCh Isle of Arran Larch, handled by Mrs Marcia Clark. The Isle of Arran prefix was one of the first to be registered with the Kennel Club. Now in her 94th year, Lady Jean recalls that her mother filmed the Champion Stake when it was held on the Isle of Arran in the 1930s.

Another great sportswoman was Lady Auckland of Cromlix. There were many notable labradors, spaniels, pointers and Gordon setters with the Cromlix prefix. Lady Auckland's pointer dogs, Swift of Cromlix and Lark of Cromlix, won the Champion Stake in 1960 and 1962. Four years later, her kennel manager and trainer, Angus McLaughlin, handled pointer dog Swallow of Cromlix to win the Championship.

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Lady Auckland's handler, Angus McLaughlin with 1966 winner FTCh Swallow of Cromlix

The Rev. Professor John Beazley is perhaps the longest serving A panel pointer and setter field trial judge in the UK. He told me: “I can only testify to an admiration of those with whom I have been privileged to judge, regarding their scrupulous fairness and, in my view, lack of bias towards breeds or handlers. For me, judging the Champion Stake was always a pleasure and I had the good fortune to work with co-judges who always seemed wise enough to avoid allowing the trial to ‘slip' towards misfortune.”

Professor Beazley kept a little notebook of his observations and comments at field trials during the 1960s and early 1970s. At the Champion Stake in Scotland in 1968, John wrote in his book:“Lady Auckland told me that when Mr. Waide won the novice stake with his Gordon setter at the Scottish gundog trials, he was so overwhelmed with delight that he said in his speech: “It was because he bedded down with Lady Auckland the night before!”

Perhaps the greatest achievement in the Champion Stake goes to Lord Arthur A. Rank and his Scotney pointers. Lord Rank won the Champion Stake on nine occasions – a quite remarkable record. The Sharnberry English setters, owned by landowner Captain W. Parlour, feature no less than five times on the Roll of Honour. Alongside the keepers on Captain Parlour's estate, the late Mrs Bettie Town handled and trained the Sharnberry setters. During the last 25 years, the husband and wife team of Billy and Penny Darragh, of Tain in Rosshire, have had great success with their Irish setters and Gordon setters. Since 1991, they have won the premier event four times.

 

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