The Gamekeepers Classes at Crufts
These classes are always popular with the general public and exhibitors alike and, with the introduction of lunchtime entertainment, there is never a dull moment.
Since BASC took over the organisation and running of the Gamekeepers Ring at Crufts, this quite unique annual happening has almost nothing to do with show dogs.
It is about working gundogs; every dog is judged to the breed standard but major consideration is given to its appearance, looks and conformation as a working gundog which has just finished a hard shooting season. This fact alone makes the class unique.
Historically, the Gamekeepers Ring is the oldest in the show. In the early days it was also one of the busiest, it was recognised by gamekeepers throughout the country as one of the focal points of their year, signalling as it did the ending of another shooting season.
The Gamekeepers Association used to hold their annual general meeting at the show. Indeed at the former venue, at Earls Court in London, the gamekeepers even had their own bar. Before the days of youth training schemes this was the place where budding gamekeepers would be interviewed, where jobs changed hands and new beat keepers were engaged. Today things have changed – television and the march of time has seen to that.
The Gamekeepers Ring holds a unique place in the history of CRUFTS
The Gamekeepers Association of the United Kingdom was founded in 1900. A year later Crufts was developed out of the Gamekeepers Association Annual General Meeting.
When Crufts was taken over by the Kennel Club, the only difference as far as the keepers were concerned was that now their dogs also had to be KC registered.
In 1978 the Gamekeepers’ Association became incorporated with The Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland which, in 1982, changed its name to The British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC).
Up to 1989 the running of the Gamekeepers ring at Crufts was in the hands of some of the old Gamekeepers Association committee.
After the 1989 Show the old team decided to call it a day and BASC was approached to see if it would be interested in picking up the baton.
At this time the ‘good old days’ seemed to be a thing of the past for the Gamekeepers Ring at Crufts. It would be churlish to suggest that this was anyone’s fault. The old team had put in many years of service. But times were changing and the Gamekeepers Ring needed re-appraising and invigorating.
A number of new sponsors were found to provide some excellent trophies, and two new classes were introduced: for retired Gamekeepers and for Regional Teams.
The most exciting year in the re-emergence of the event was probably 1992 when Her Majesty the Queen’s Keepers from Sandringham represented the SE England Region of BASC. They won the event by the narrowest of margins (1 point) beating the team from the South West of England represented by Lord Bathurst’s Keepers from Cirencester Park in Gloucestershire.
In 1993 and 1994 the Royal Keepers from Windsor Great Park entered a team representing the South of England. There were also strong teams from Scotland (who won in 1993) and the North of England. Sandringham Estate took the trophy in 1994 but were defeated in 1995 by a team from BASC Northern Region comprising of Keepers from Yorkshire and Lancashire. Balmoral is the only Royal Estate that has yet to appear in the Gamekeepers Ring at Crufts.
Until 1995 there were difficulties because the event was held during the shooting season. This made it virtually impossible for most keepers to attend. In 1995, for the first time, the event was changed to March and the resultant rise in entrants was testimony to the popularity of the Gamekeepers Classes.
Since moving to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, the event has continued to be held in March, and this has given more keepers from all parts of the country the opportunity to support what was once one of the premier events in the gamekeepers’ calendar.
In 1997 another new class, for pickers-up, was introduced to add yet another dimension and in 2004 beaters were added, making the BASC working gundog team competition. Each team member has to be verified by the Gamekeeper as having very regularly worked on his shoot during the season. Three dogs and their handlers make up this team (plus one reserve).
Subsequently to include all working gundogs, each individual breed class has had a working gundog group added and now there are three classes for each breed
(a) The Gamekeepers class, in which a dog has to be registered to a Gamekeeper but may be shown by another person.
(b) The Working Gundog Best dog
(c) The Working Gundog Best bitch
For (b) and (c) above all dogs entered into these classes must have regularly worked during the previous season and this must be qualified through certification by a gamekeeper.
In an effort to encourage youngsters to the ring it was decided to allow a young handler to accompany each team. The girl or boy carries a placard with the team name on it.
This has now been extended to a Young Handler’s Class. Anyone under 18 may enter this class together with a dog which has already been judged on the day and they will be judged as the best matched pair and the winner receives the Captain Heilgers Perpetual Challenge Cup.
In 2006 more than 250 dogs were entered in these classes.
How the rings are organised
The important thing to remember is that the Gamekeepers Ring is not a breed class. Therefore occasional delays will occur when a competitor is delayed in a breed class, which has to take precedence over the Gamekeepers Ring. To follow the day in the Ring you will need a catalogue which gives a schedule of entries in the Gamekeepers Classes.
Every class is given a number and every dog entered in that class also has a number, which is all that a judge knows about the dog. In order to do his job impartially the judge does not need to know the name of the dog or its owner. You, however, may refer to your catalogue and by cross-referencing the number worn by the dog’s handler you can find out who owns the dog, where they live and the dog’s registered name.
The judges are helped with paperwork and administration (but not the judging) by a chief steward, and other stewards who are responsible for collecting the competitors at the beginning of each class, for keeping the ring notice board up to date with details of the class which is being judged, and collecting the results.
Trophy presentation takes place at the end of the day’s judging (approx 4pm).
Finally the winners from each gamekeeper-only class has to be judged again in the Main Ring so that the Best in Gamekeeper Classes may be chosen and the Northesk Memorial Trophy presented.