Drama, triumph and tragedy
Olympia ABC day is never without its dramas and this was never more true than at the 2007 event. With the ABC Speed Jumping due to start just after 1.45pm, nine of the 10 competitors were gathered in the 'green room' soon after noon. Some were chatting, sipping coffee and exchanging jokes; some playing with their dogs, others finding a quiet corner in which to relax and prepare. But having studied the paper plan of judge Kate Austin's fast flowing course and gathered for the oral briefing before entering the main arena there was consternation. Where was Nigel Staines? No one had heard from him and it was unthinkable that he wouldn't be there. Lindy Margach reports.
At virtually the last moment, he and Zico arrived, stressed and out of breath after a morning of fruitless searching of a Surrey Common for his beloved 15-year-old lurcher Bear, his former Olympia champion who had gone missing during their morning walk near their friends' home. But we barely had time to find out the details before the stewards urged the contestants to follow the tractors into the main ring and get set for the event.
Nicholas Brooks-Ward, son of the famous Raymond, was quick to motivate the packed crowd. 'Put your hands up if you have a dog. ' At least 75% of hands in the arena were waved. 'Now cheer, everybody, cheer. These dogs need all the help they can get.'
ABC Speed Jumping Stakes
James Coxon from Caerphilly, with five-year-old Grade 6 Australian Sheepdog Sam (Brynelen Joshua Jones) was next out of the trap but took two poles to record a 29 second round topped up to 39 seconds with the two five-second penalties. He was followed by Cheryl Tustain from Banbury with the 9.5 year old Grade 5 lurcher Logan (Loganberry Whinger). Exorted 'not to whinge' by the commentator, the oldest dog in the class took him at his word and managed a clear round in 28.69 seconds.
Next up was the remarkable Rusty with Crawley's David Leach. This three-year-old BSD Malinois (Bonvivant Kallisto) showed just why she has reached championship Grade 7 in her second season of competition by storming round the course without putting a paw wrong in a breathtaking 22.77 seconds.
Then Cumbria's Nigel Staines and 5-year-old Kelpie Zico (Dragonheart Dark Destroyer) were on the line. Could he beat David and Rusty's time? The pair flew the first few obstacles to be almost a second ahead at the turn ... but a too-sharp turn after the wall saw a pole down, Nigel eased back and they crossed the line in 22.92 seconds, rounded up to 27.92.
Linda Smith had brought her Grade 6 poodle x beardie Gypsy Kernowes all the way from Saltash, Cornwall, to London – and Gypsy made the trip well worthwhile with a tidy clear in 27.27 seconds.
Anna Braley from Worcestershire and her five-year-old Up a Gum Tree – better known as Semi – set off at speed, but a missed weave entry added five seconds to their time of 29.37 to give them a 34.37 second total.
County neighbour Andy Brown and Sky were clear, but the four-year-old former world champion BSD Groenendale Heidron Chasing Stormy Sky was almost two seconds slower than the leader, crossing the finish in 24.90 seconds.
Then it was Mali v Mali as Joanne Apostolou from Potters Bar set Sabrefield Xciting Story, her 8.5 year old Grade 5 BSD Zelllik on the starting line. She went clear, but 25.13 seconds was only enough for a place.
Only Mark Douglas and six-year-old Amber – the Grade 6 Dishy Scarlet Under Stars of Mars Australian Sheepdog from Pontypridd – could now wrest the KC 2007 ABC Speed Jumping Trophy from David and Rusty. They set a cracking pace, the crowd cheered them all the way – and they crossed the finishing line in 24.25 seconds to find themselves tied in second place with the pace-setters Bridgitte Wyre and Della.
The ABC Agility Stakes
Those who had driven to Olympia returned to the peace and quiet of their vehicles and I took the opportunity for a quick sandwich, a peek at the main ring performances (the musical ride of the Household Cavalry outstanding for its horsemanship, patriotism and glamour and the Cossack riders simply incomparable) and the annual indulgence of retail therapy in the extensive shopping area.
But all too soon it was time to gather again for the year's highlight – the Kennel Club ABC Agility Stakes Final. Nineteen obstacles, including two tunnels ... a tyre, dog-walk, wall, see-saw, A-frame, weaves and long jump all featured – as did some very tricky angles and pull-throughs. From start to finish, this was a course designed to test the best.
Linda and Gypsy were first out of the hat and set a careful target of clear in 39.62 seconds.
Joanne and Zellik were going well, but a five-second penalty on the weaves took their total to 40.06, while Cheryl and Logan's refusal at 17 tipped them up to 43.47 seconds and Bridgitte and Della missed the A-frame contact to notch up 40.11 seconds.
This could have been a course designed for Andy Brown and Sky, who stormed into the lead with a beautiful clear round in just 36.26 seconds, before Mark and Amber notched up 5 on the A-frame to record 33.86 and Anna and Semi missed their weave entry for a tally of 40.11 seconds. James and Sam had clearly waited too long for their run and faults on the dog walk, A-frame and two jumps gave them 20 faults and a time of 39.49 seconds.
Almost last to go, the morning's winners David Leach and Rusty were just too quick off the A-frame and judge Kate Austin gave them 5 faults in a blisteringly fast 33.63.
So there was one partnership left to run. Nigel and Zico. Everyone held their breath: could Nigel put the missing Bear out of his mind and focus on the course?
Off they set ... clear through the tyre and over jump two; a fast sharp left and into the tunnel ... clear over the fourth ... a pin-sharp contact on the dog walk. The push-out over six and pull back over seven ... the wall, seesaw, jump and sharp turn to the A-frame were still faultless. The crowd was screaming... even their fellow competitors were urging them on. Then it was out over 13, back over 14, an incredible drive through the weaves, sharp turn to the long jump, over 16 and back round to the 'wrong' side of 18 and the final surge to the finish line.
Olympia virtually exploded with noise. Nigel and Zico had broken the electronic eye in just 32.86 seconds. Congratulations to the Agility Stakes champions 2007 – never was it better deserved. Congratulations, too, to second placed Andy Brown and Sky and, in third, Linda Smith and Gypsy.
But this was Nigel's event and, as at the time of writing the search for Bear goes on, we all hope desperately that his triumph will not be marred by tragedy.
Note: Since this article was written Bear has been found, tired and hungry but well. A perfect Christmas present for Nigel and Donna and a happy ending to this story.
She lives in Surrey and trains at Sunniday with Lin Bergen, Indira and Carol, and is trying also to hone her skills at KIS with Lisa Jordan.
Photos: Lindy Margarch, Gill Bignall & Kit Houghton