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Thursday, July 7, 2005
Defying history at Super Retriever Series

By Steve Bowman
Great Outdoor Games staff

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — In Super Retriever Series lore, getting the number one seed has been the kiss of death.

In almost every event this season, the number one seed has quickly fallen from their throne. That's a fact that J. Paul Jackson hasn't forgotten. But it's also one that he and Achilles, a black Labrador, seem to be defying.

For the first time in Super Retriever Series history a retriever/handler team has held on to the number one spot for three straight days.

"He's just on," Jackson said. "How long can you stay on top? I don't know, but I know the crash is coming. But good Lord willing I hope it doesn't happen tomorrow."

Jackson and Achilles lead the final round of six retrievers following an almost flawless run over a course that continually served up fits for most of the dogs in the semi-final round.

The team scored a miniscule 8 points. They are followed by Marc Fritzmeier and Emmy of Rochester, Minn., in second with an impressive 12 points. Tied for third are Bill Autrey and Cody of Bentley, La., and Keith Allison and Abby of Pea Ridge, Ark., with 17 points. Mark Suchta and Scout of Zimmerman, Minn., are fifth with 28 points and Derek Randall and Stella of Prairie Grove, Ark., are sixth with 30 points.

What's at stake

At stake on the final day are the final two spots in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games that will be held in June in Reno, Nev.

"At this rate it's J. Paul's to lose," Randall said. "That dog is just really hot right now and we basically need them to stumble."

That may not happen, though. The best chance for a stumble came on Saturday in a test that most of the handlers described as closely resembling a "hunt test."

"I had a good game plan, but I lost it," Jackson said.

The handler failed to see the second mark in the test, fearing that Achilles had not swung his head with the gun barrel. Instead of watching the mark to the ground, Jackson turned to check on Achilles and he never saw the mark.

"I should be more about me doing my job and letting him do his," Jackson said. "But thank God he was on it. He did his job and I didn't do mine. He nailed it, you couldn't have popped a straighter chalk line."

The tests of Day Three

The all-land test took place in a grassy, wetland bottom area. It included three marks and a blind retrieve.

The first mark came out hard left at 143 yards, landing in heavy tall grass. The handler had to make a big swing to the right where the second mark came out at 87 yards, also landing in dense tall grass. And the third mark was a breaking bird, thrown from in front and directly toward the dog and in the middle of a set of Canada goose decoys.

The final retrieve, the blind, was sitting 152 yards from the line, and required the handler to push the dog through a downed tree and on such a tight line that if the dog got off course just a few feet it was out of sight from the handler.

The biggest pitfall for most of the dogs was marking the second mark after making the wide swing from left to right.

"The dog had to see that mark, because it was critical to get the dog there as quickly as possible," Jackson said. "If it took too long, then the dogs got hot and started panting and they weren't able to smell it."

Achilles, though, pulled Jackson through the second mark and after the third bird had been picked up the team was working on a perfect score.

"I knew we had a zero at that point," Jackson said. "With the blind left, I wanted to attack it. But I guess I got a little nervous and gave him a poor line. It took me two or three whistles to get him on line and then he smacked it."

The Super Retriever Series concludes on Sunday with the final six dogs competing in a land/water test that will resemble more of a field trial style test. It will include "the nastiest blind retrieve in Super Retriever Series history," Justin Tackett, SRS organizer, said.

The handler/retriever teams advancing to the semi-final round and their day two score.

Day Three standings
May 17, 2003

Place, Handler/Dog, Hometown, Points accrued

1. Paul Jackson/Achilles, Dyersburg, Tenn. 8
2. Marc Fritzmeier/Emmy, Rochester, Minn. 12
3. Keith Allison/Abby, Pea Ridge, Ark. 17
4. Bill Autrey/Cody, Bentley, La. 17
5. Mark Suchta/Scout, Zimmerman, Minn. 28
6. Derek Randall/Stella, Prairie Grove, Ark. 30

The following did not make the cut
7. Thomas McMorrow/Chammy, Wayzata, Minn. 37
8. Steve Earick/Dory, Ellefontaine, Ohio 40
9. Bill Howland/Comet, Apple Valley, Minn. 43
10. Andrea McConico/Chili, Fridley, Minn. 52
11. Dana Fritzmeier/Bob, Rochester, Minn. 84
12. Chad Bessemer/Tanner, New Ulm, Minn. 97