My coverage of Crufts 2015 in Dog World (11th March 2015).

This year’s Crufts started with the usual ‘silly season’ stories mushrooming all over our national press. For once, however, the focus wasn’t upon ‘the parade of genetically compromised mutants’, no, this time the spotlight was fixed firmly upon us, the exhibitors.

One story seemed to suggest that the Crufts ringside was a fertile recruitment ground for the likes of UKIP (Nigel Farage obviously missed an opportunity here) with (it reported) growing resentment of the foreign contingent ‘coming over here and stealing our CCs’.

And so, it was against this background of media fervour that Clare Balding (ably assisted by her supporting cast of knowledgeable pedigree-loving stalwarts, Jessica Holm, Frank Kane and ‘National Treasure’ Peter Purves) presented the coverage of Crufts 2015 on Channel 4 and More4 and it all started quietly enough – there wouldn’t be a sniff of last year’s Liza Tarbuck debacle with Clare firmly at the helm!

Away from the TV coverage, the production company, Sunset & Vine, had renewed its deal with the KC, rights owners of Crufts, and provided a livestream on Youtube – daily from 9am to 8.30pm.

Extensive coverage

Jeff Foulser, chairman of Sunset & Vine, certainly seemed enthusiastic when he said: “Crufts is one of the most iconic and best-loved of our nation’s events and we are delighted to have the opportunity of working with Channel 4 and the Kennel Club to make this the most comprehensively covered dog show in the world.”

This year (with lambs, goslings, ducklings and chicks appearing on a daily basis) I was unable to attend the show (although I sent Alfie there as my representative!) but with such an extensive coverage promised I didn’t feel that I would entirely miss out. 

Featured in the first show, it was good to see some familiar faces (and future stars) appearing in some much welcome coverage of Pup of the Year and it was wonderful to see the emotion coming across from the winner, (Beagle, Eardley Stew Pendous) Stuey’s owner, Tim Jones, which illustrated perfectly how much showing our beautiful pedigree dogs means to us. Judge Jeff Horswell certainly looked very dapper on my 42 inch plasma!

This was then followed by a segment about breeding with KC veterinary advisor Marc Abraham and KC secretary Caroline Kisko and, of course, Crufts wouldn’t be Crufts without some controversy and this segment certainly provided it. Caroline said, when asked the best way to buy a healthy happy puppy, ‘…the simplest message is go to a KC Assured Breeder…’  And then Mr Abraham said puppy buyers should go to either an Assured Breeder or rescue. 

This immediately set Twitter and Facebook alight as people took this somewhat clumsy statement to mean, ‘if you’re not an ABS breeder then you aren’t a responsible breeder or – even worse – a puppy farmer.’

Sanity was restored by coverage of the YKC Agility Dog of the Year; it was truly inspiring to watch these kids and their dogs in action and my ears certainly pricked up when Holly Ryan stepped out with her little German Spitz, Tink, for she comes from my old home, West Parley and I was thrilled when she went on to win with a blistering time of 36.52 seconds and no penalties. Well done Holly! The YKC certainly had some great promotion that day as 16-year-old Rachel Gilmore (and her Tibetan Terrier, Puzzle) handled her interview with Clare like a true professional and even expressed a desire to, alongside agility, get back into dog showing.

The night ended with coverage of the gundog group winner which saw the Flatcoat, Castlerock Simply Magic, win and who could forget ‘Dublin’ grabbing the rosette off his doting owner and why not after all he was the one who had won it!

Owner Anette Dyrén, from Sweden, was thoroughly enjoying herself and the reception she had been given probably much to the chagrin of the tabloids.

Friday was working and pastoral day and at the beginning of the coverage Clare promised that, ‘of course, at Crufts, judging takes centre stage’ however on this particular day it certainly didn’t feel like that as anything remotely ‘doggy’ was thrown into the mix and we learnt how to walk our dogs in the countryside, Victoria Stilwell showed us how to limber up with our dogs and play puzzles with them and presenter Iwan Thomas was set the protracted challenge to ‘find himself the perfect dog’, all this alongside the irritating ‘dog’s eye view’ of the show and ‘dog facts’ at the beginning of each segment ate into and wasted valuable air time. I would much rather (and I’m sure most of the general public would agree) watch and listen to someone like Meg Purnell-Carpenter speaking about the Beauceron.

Peter and Frank gave their commentary on a cracking working group with Bob Gregory selecting the Alaskan Malamute as winner. Sue Ellis and Bart gave such a good account of themselves on the sofa with Clare which, of course, is so valuable for a breed beleaguered by recent bad press.

And then it was onto the pastoral group, judged by Vic Salt, who purposefully strode towards the French-bred Bearded Collie and once again it was so lovely to see the winner, Fayme, having done her bit in the ring, relaxing (and this dog certainly seemed an expert at this) and kicking back on the sofa with Clare.

Saturday was terrier and hound day and one of the highlights (of the whole coverage) for me (in a Crufts that seemed to heavily focus on the young) was the handling of the Bedlington in the terrier group. Wasn’t it heart warming to see ten-year-old Sophie Lawrie (the youngest ever handler in a group) handle her dog so expertly and without any trace of nerves? In the obligatory  ‘sofa chat’ with Claire (when asked if she was nervous about being on TV) she literally made me laugh out loud when she admitted she was initially worried and then thought, ‘Hey, I’m showing my dog – who cares about the cameras!’

International flavour

Terrier judge Martin Phillips selected the Scottish Terrier and her handler, Rebecca Cross, was also on the sofa and it was lovely to see the exchange between the older experienced handler and the young up-and-coming Sophie – a name I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot of in the future. So often it is said that our sport is a dying pastime but with such dynamic youngsters such as these coming up in the ranks I feel its future is assured.

And then it was time for my favourite group, hounds, with esteemed judge Carla Molinari, and it made compelling viewing complemented by the perfect balance of historical information and tips on each breed provided by Jessica and Peter. Once again, the line up had a truly international flavour the group being won by the Swedish Saluki.

Jessica concluded the night’s coverage in spectacular fashion in a chat with Clare summing up the pedigree world and pouring scorn upon the mainstream media by saying how the majority of us embrace foreign dogs and what their bloodlines can offer adding, “pedigree dog showing and breeding has come together as one big fraternity and that has to be a good thing.”

Clare then said she’d received a number of tweets asking when the labradoodle, sprocker spaniel, cavapoo etc, will be recognised as breeds. Jessica didn’t evade the question answering it ever so diplomatically, “make no mistake, they are crossbreeds… whether they will be a ‘breed’ at some unspecified time in the future-nobody can say – it depends on the dedication of those involved.”

Sunday’s show started with an incredible montage; ‘The more things change, the more things stay the same’ contrasting footage of dogs at Crufts (I assume from the ‘50s/’60s) with exhibits of today… it made its point very well. Sadly the final night’s coverage started under something of a cloud with the horrifying news that a Irish Setter may have been poisoned at the show on Thursday and it was left up to Sian Illingworth and Ag Ch Arnpriors Made Of Honour with their ‘edge of the seat’ thrilling winning performance in the ‘Agility – Championship Medium Final’ to lift our spirits. Just one grumble; why were agility champions fully titled but the group representatives weren’t?

Zena Thorn-Andrews then began the utility group, pulling out all three Poodles for the shortlist and, after one last look, unhesitatingly strode towards the Norwegian-bred Miniature Poodle.

Peter and Frank gave the commentary for the toys (a group I always love to watch) and, once again, another talented youngster, 12-year-old Ryan Ross, was featured showing an exquisite English Toy Terrier. Judge Stephen Bardwell selected the deserving Italian-bred Maltese to win the group but I was beaming from ear to ear to see Ryan get group 3 and what a sporting young man; it was a delight to see him go and shake the hand of the group winner – wonderful!

With tension and excitement clearly building, we counted down to the finale… with one last chat with the nervous exhibitors. Nearly 22,000 dogs whittled down to the final ‘magnificent seven’ and they entered the ring to the customary fanfare from Her Majesty’s Royal Marines. Is there anyone out there who watched the Maltese enter the ring without a smile on their face?

BIS Judge Ronnie Irving certainly had a stunning line up of dogs to go over and he provided another touching moment by applauding all the deserving group winners. It was a lesson in great judging to see him so thoroughly and firmly going over the dogs, getting his hands deep in under any coat and, then, without deliberation, Ronnie pulled out the Scottish Terrier (the first since 1929) for BIS and, for once, I was in full agreement with him!

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