On home soil, the Great Britain team reclaimed victory for a second year in a row, in the Euro Challenge at this year’s Game Fair, held at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Now in its 16th year, the gundog competition was entered by teams from all over Europe including Great Britain, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
Organised by Mary-Jane Opie, chief steward of the Euro Challenge, each team consisted of three handlers and three different breeds of retriever. Teams were asked to complete a series of retrieves within a walked-up setting, with marking and handling ability judged for retrieving over obstacles, hunting for blind retrieves and ignoring distractions.
Captained by Phil Wagland, the winning team was awarded the much-coveted Game Fair Trophy, along with commemorative tumblers and a bag of Sporting Saint products from the event sponsor for each team member.
Finishing on 272 points, the GB team was made up of Paul Birkbeck with his Labrador Warrenbank Fen, Garry Ellison with his flat coated retriever Ollersett Sparkling Nymph and Phil Wagland who ran his golden retriever Funnyline Fieldquest Kelbrook. Pipped to the post by just one point, in second place Belgium, captained by Jelle Huysmans finished on 271 points, followed by Sweden in third place on 267 points, captained by Anna Charlotte Bengtsson.
GB team captain Phil Wagland commented: “As captain of the winning GB team I would like to thank Mary-Jane Opie and her helpers for putting on a most interesting and enjoyable event. As a previous organiser in 2015 and earlier, plus judge in 2016, it was a privilege to compete. Many thanks to the teams from Europe who travelled so far to take part and made it such a closely contested event. Our three handlers and dogs had to be on top form to win, well done everyone.”
The Game Fair’s Chairman and Gundog Advisor Barbara Kuen added: “The Euro Challenge course was a tightly contested event at Hatfield. Popular because we invite minor breeds, this year Chesapeakes, curly coats and duck tollers were joined by a contingent of flat coats.”