So the big day arrived for the Top Ten Beagle Battle. The sky was clear and a keen wind kept the temperature low (ideal for running ultra distances). Champagne was being served to nervous owners who secretly had high expectations of their dogs. I was advised not to fuss as this might throw Jamie off his game (not too difficult when one is not quite awake at the crack of dawn on a Sunday).
The challenge of this race was that it was ultra long - almost five kilometers. Normally we lay five trails each about a kilometer long. We used a quad bike which dragged the lure (a bag of mackerel) behind it to lay the scent trail. This is a quicker method than our usual method which is on foot. This is to prevent the evaporation of the scent in the rising heat.
After about a half hour, we were given the all clear to line up our dogs at the starting line.
It was strange only having 10 dogs in the pack but when the horn sounded, the start was as chaotic as usual as the dogs sprinted off at full speed. Check out Jamie in the bib marked 91!
This time we were able to track most of their progress across the valley and up the koppies. Those owners with field glasses kept up a running commentary.
The dogs stayed together pretty much for two thirds of the race with the lead changing a couple of times. Then they suddenly lost the scent. Some picked up the scent again but unfortunately began back tracking on the trail, to a chorus of moans and groans from the waiting owners.
A couple of dogs decided not to back track but since they could not pick up the trail, headed as the crow flies back to the owners instead of the finish line. One of them was Jamie.
Only two dogs were left on the trail now - two girls. It looked like it was going to be a repeat of last year's race where only two dogs finished and they were also female (usually the minority sex in the Top Ten). This year it seemed that yet again the girls were showing their stamina and tracking skills.
Unfortunately one of the girls who crossed the finishing line was disqualified for not finishing the final loop of the trail. So the only finisher and this year's winner was Marmalade.
Her owner happens to be the hunt master who was jubilant because this was the first time Marmalade had made the Top Ten. His comment was "because I lay the trail, I worry whether my dog is only following me and not the scent, but she has really proven that she knows what she is doing."
It was a tough race that really sorted out the men from the boys... er... I mean the girls from the boys.
We celebrated with a slap up English breakfast and champagne!
I am really proud of Jamie from climbing up the rankings from 21st out of 50 last year to Top Ten this year. However the lesson to be learnt from the girls is that sometimes the underdog who can't keep up with the leader of the pack, really learns how to follow a scent and keep focused.
(Note to self: Must speak to Santacruzrulz about borrowing a bike; Find out if I can still ride one; Get fit to keep up with beagles.)
All will be revealed when the final results of all the different categories are presented at the Beagle Ball in October.