The 39th Canadian National Championship:

A Personal Reflection

By Paul G. McGagh and Vicky Thomas

The Canadian National is really named “The Spaniel Field Trial Championship.” It is open to any spaniel breed if the dog can qualify. To qualify, the spaniel must win a first to fourth placement at a licensed Canadian Kennel Club Field Trial. In America today, we hold three separate championship events: The Springer Open Championship, the Springer Amateur Championship, and the Cocker National Championship (which is open to both English and American Cockers). Canada offers the only opportunity to test both breeds against each other. Some say it would take a miracle for a Cocker to beat a Springer, in a National.

 

In all of the Canadian National’s celebrated 38-year history, an English Springer Spaniel has won the event. But, for the 39th Anniversary held in October 2005, in Montreal, there was a miracle as an English Cocker named Warrener’s California Quail (Storm) won the Championship title!

 

This article is our recollection of the Canadian National and the dogs that contributed to Storm’s success. It is impossible for us to celebrate and separate the Canadian victory, as it is a vindication for many Cocker owners who have supported us from the beginning.

 

Paul McGagh recalls, “In the fall of 1991 I bought two seven-week-old littermate bitch puppies from Headley Millington of Cornwall, England. They were out of English FT CH Swallow Law Snipe and Nancarrow Figurine. They were registered Nancarrow Golden Glow (Katie) and Nancarrow Rosy Mantle (Brit). I immediately passed Katie along to Tom Tullidge in Virginia and Brit to Dr. Arthur Person in Mississippi, with the understanding that I would have them back for training a little later.

 

“Getting these two pups back for training coincided with another trip to England. In 1992, Tom Tullidge was interested in acquiring more cockers. I visited Carl Colclough in Suffolk and bought a two-year-old male named Maesydderwen Griffin (Bran) and a beautiful 7-week-old male puppy named Parkbreck Chevron (Ritchie). Despite Bran’s relative tender age, he had been bred to a number of bitches in England before being exported, siring six Field Trial Champions over there.

 

These four dogs, Brit, Katie, Bran and Ritchie had quite an influence in refining a definition of what I look for in a working cocker. All four of these dogs were larger than appears to be currently in vogue. The two bitches, Brit and Katie, matured out at about 26-27 pounds and the two males in the mid-30s, weight-wise. I’ve been privileged to hunt and finish field titles on a fair number of very small cockers, but I find the little extra power of a larger dog is a tremendous advantage and it suits the kind of hunting I happen to prefer.

 

They all possessed that distinctive quintessential flair one finds in cockers and had very amenable temperaments that made them a pleasure to train. This is not always the case as you can get one with drive, but an incorrigible spirit or vice versa.

 

Brit was bred twice over her long life, both times to Bran. Four of their offspring were field trialed. The first litter produced NFC Darag Caol Shraid Marshen (Freckles), FC Griffin’s Pride Rocky (Rocky) and FC Ruby Rubster Warrener. The second litter produced FC Oak Alley Snowy Egret.

 

Katie was bred to both Bran and Ritchie. The Bran/Katie breeding produced Guinness of Killaurel, the grandsire of John and Chris Dartts’ dog Canadian FC Bryor Oaks Marlock (Max) that, under the guidance of Marty Knibbs, was the first English Cocker to earn its Championship against Springers in Canada.

 

The Ritchie/Katie breeding produced Gwynnfield Misty (Liz) which, when bred to FC Griffen’s Pride Rocky, produced FC/CFC Warrener’s Yellowhammer (Sydney). She was 2004 High Point Cocker in America and placed 2nd in the 2002 Cocker National Championship. She has also won three Canadian Springer Trials to gain her Canadian Field Championship.

 

Tom Ness bred his excellent bitch, FC Parkbreck Elm of Bishwell (Mave) to Rocky, which produced FC Oahe Sentinel (Hoover). I line-bred Liz to Hoover producing FC Warrener’s Mountain Quail (Tweed) owned by Ernie Hasse and my own FC/NCFC Warrener’s California Quail (Storm). 

 

Storm was the first cocker Vicky Thomas and I kept as a puppy to raise from scratch for many years. He was born at the farm in North Dakota and I took him down to California for the winter at eight weeks of age. We had the luxury of having complete control of him from day one. He responded to basic obedience lessons extremely well being a laid back, smart pup. Everything we did was framed around playing games. That winter, I taught him basic handling drills using tennis balls with lots of edible treats and praise.

 

By the time Storm reached eight months I entered him in his first Hunt Test at the Master Level. He won his first field trial Open Stake four months later at one year and one day old in Wisconsin.

 

The more I watched Storm mature the more I felt he was turning into an ideal dog for Canadian trials. I had caught the Canada bug in the late 1990s. I love competing up there. The scenery, camaraderie, and level of competition are superb. It takes an extremely special Cocker to be truly competitive against the Springer dominated Canadian trials. That is what makes it so much fun. I sincerely believe Canada is the ultimate testing ground for quality working Cockers.

 

I had won the Guns’ Award and a Certificate of Merit with Storm’s grandsire, Griffins Pride Rocky at the Canadian National in 1999. Tom Ness had done the same with Storm’s sire, Oahe Sentinel, (Hoover) in 2002.

 

Storm had qualified for the 2004 and the subsequent 2005 National by winning an Open stake in Winnipeg under judges Kevin Martineau and Randy Curtis. He placed fourth in the 2004 National under judges Tom Batrude and Tom Ness in Saskatchewan shortly after his second birthday.

 

The Canadian National
The 2005 Canadian National was held in Quebec - a 2000-mile drive from the farm. The first two series were held in very open cover. Storm’s first series under judge Arley Elliot was just what I would have wished for. At the end of the outward-bound course, there were a couple of trees surrounded by thick leafy cover. Storm loves cover and he bee-lined towards it, flushing a hen pheasant. It was shat and killed quite a way outside the right hand gun and Storm made a nice retrieve. This found us at the beginning of a new course. Storm made a good big find that again was shot by the right hand gun. He made the retrieve and this finished our first run.

 

As luck would have it, Storm started his second series in the exact place he had finished the first with the same few trees and cover, this time off to our right. While judge Mike Nolan was giving his instructions, I glanced down at Storm. He had a visual lock on the clump of cover where he had found a bird the previous series. He’s smart and as soon as I cast him off, he headed to the cover and trapped a hen pheasant. He then proceeded to track a moving bird down the course, which was shot and retrieved. Judge Nolen kept me down for a third bird, which was a carbon copy of the second.

 

As wide open as the first two series were, the third and fourth were thick grouse and woodcock cover. In fact, on the first round, numerous grouse and woodcock were flushed. Storm adjusted his pattern, tightening up slightly to accommodate for the thick cover. Storm had a couple of nice retrieves under judge Elliot and a good solid fourth under judge Nolen. Finishing the fourth series corresponded with the end of the third day.

 

First business on the morning of the fourth day was the water series. It was deceptively difficult. Birds were launched at the end of a small narrow pond. There was quite an incentive for dogs to grab the bird and head to the closest bank and then run the bank all the way back. It’s not the end of the world, but when Storm grabbed his bird and turned and swam his original wake back, I was very relieved.

 

The fifth series was held in the same general area as the third and fourth. There was some criticism levied at the Committee by people who felt the fifth should be in wide-open cover for good viewing. Thick cover, thin cover, it didn’t matter to me. At that point all the dogs remaining had proved they could handle diversity.

 

At the time of the 2005 National, Storm had just turned three. He’s a powerful dog and like powerful dogs, he can be a handful at times. Normally, when I walk him to the line I am all business with him, quite stern and no niceties.

 

There remained 25 springers and one cocker out of the original 86 dogs in the fifth series. We were about half way through the running order. I watched Casey Butts, Jim Keller, Marty Knibbs, Jason Givens, Alice Stewart and John Mitchell keep putting down great fifths with various different dogs. I had the feeling it would take something extraordinary to win. I decided to throw caution to the wind and I reached down and gave Storm a big hug and told him how proud of him I was. I thought, “What the heck, if he is over exuberant because of this and he boils over, at least we would go out fighting.” I didn’t want him to appear even slightly stifled.

 

Casting him off in the fifth, a cock pheasant flushed wild out in front of us that the guns could not shoot due to thick cover. At the end of the beat Storm trapped a hen. It was hard to keep track of him in the brush, having to fight through pine trees. His third bird flew back behind the line and again presented no shot. The next bird, his fourth, was a good find that was killed out to the left. The fifth flew down the course and was shot at. Both judges and I didn’t really get a definite look at it. I sent Storm on the retrieve where he re-flushed the bird into a pine tree. This was a roller-coaster ride of a series! I didn’t feel it possessed the kind of finesse that I like, but it was exciting and I loved it.

 

I was told to cast Storm again. After quartering for a short while, he made another very positive find which turned out to be a cock pheasant that rocketed out to our left and was crumpled by the left hand gun. Storm made a potentially difficult retrieve look very easy. I would have loved to stay down for another ten birds! Sometimes you just feel that way.

 

As I left the line that day, I was awfully proud of Storm as he’d been in two back-to-back Canadian Nationals and had finished all 12 series in style. However, I had witnessed some awesome dog work in this National. I honestly didn’t know how this would shake out. One thing was for sure, I had complete faith in the integrity of both judges, so whatever was going to be, was going to be.

 

“Do you believe in miracles?” I asked Vicky when I phoned her. Storm had won.