American Field

Field Trial Report

National Amateur Invitational Championship

By Jim Atchison | Jan 03, 2018
The Winners. Front (l-r): John Vanada with Touch’s Smooth Rider and Joey McAlexander with Phillips Off Line. Standing: Ryan Braddock, Larry Smith, Gary Winall, Linda Smith, Ellen Clements, Jim Pendergest, Amy Pendergest, Rich Boumeester, John Ivester, Keith Wright, Chris Weatherly, Jim Smith, Ike Todd, Keith Lowery, Nathan Phillips, Ken Blackman, Mike Small, David Williams, Elton Bray, Judge Michael Shears, Kerry Kimmery, Judge Jonathan Burch, Meagan Henry, Piper Huffman, Matt Pendergest and Dr. Rick Carlisle. [Photos by Vera Courtney.]

Grand Junction, Tenn. — The Rube Rhea Memorial Building on Ames Plantation was filled Sunday evening, December 3, as owners of the twelve best amateur all-age dogs in the country and numerous others gathered for the 37th renewal of the National Amateur Invitational Championship.

Before noon on Wednesday, Touch’s Smooth Rider, white and orange ticked pointer male owned and handled by Keith Wright of Covington, Ind., was declared champion; Phillips Off Line, white and orange ticked pointer male owned by Nathan Phillips  of Oakland, Ind., and handled by Mike Small of Evansville, Ind., was named runner-up.

Eleven pointers and one setter were invited to the prestigious Championship based upon the number of points earned in qualifying trials during the previous season. AFTCA sponsored the running which was hosted on Ames Plantation, thanks to the generosity of the trustees of the Hobart Ames Memorial Foundation and represented by Dr. Rick Carlisle, superintendent of Ames.

After a social hour, AFTCA President David Williams called the gathering to order and immediately thanked the leadership of Ames for continuing to host the Championship. He then thanked Jim Smith representing Purina for their generous support and sponsorship of field trialing and the AFTCA. Appreciation was also voiced to Garmin Tri-Tronics for the collars, and Bruce Fox for the sculpted game bird plaques they furnished as awards to the owners of the champion and runner-up.

Williams told of the early history of the competition which originated in the Como, Miss., area under the leadership of Bob Crenshaw, Bobby Short, Joe Walker and others, and later passed to the AFTCA, and even later elevated to championship status.

During his remarks Williams complimented the owners of the competing dogs and acknowledged the level of performance necessary to earn an invitation. He also referenced a written standard which was adopted by the AFTCA in 1983 outlining the expectations of amateur all-age dogs and said copies of that standard would be available on Monday.

In closing Williams quipped, “I know what it takes to get invited because I have competed here, but I don’t know what it takes to win because I never did.”

He then presented Mrs. Piper Huffman, AFTCA secretary, who conducted the drawing. Piper Huffman announced the entries in order based upon the number of qualifying points earned. She stated she was extremely pleased that those invited to compete were from Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia.

She introduced the judges, Michael Shears of Franklin, Tenn., and Jonathan Burch of Holly Springs, Miss.

Piper said that heavy rain appeared to be in the forecast for Tuesday and that the decision as to whether or not to run would be made by the judges; however, either all entries would run or none would run. (As it turned out, the heavy rain came on Monday night and the start on Tuesday morning was delayed only 15 minutes.) The drawing went quickly and without complication.

Many people worked well together throughout the Championship and their contributions to its success will be acknowledged at the end of this article.


Touch’s Smooth Rider demonstrated he possessed all the qualities listed in the Standards and Running Rules for the National Amateur All-Age Championship. He won the championship title with three hours of excellent performance. He exhibited independence, strength, stamina, speed, style, manners, responsiveness, and respect for his bracemate as he hunted with intensity for owner Keith Wright.

On the first day, in the second brace, the champion and his bracemate scored a divided find at 34 on the left soon after entering No Man’s Land. Later he had an unproductive at 41 and backed his bracemate at 58 as two birds were flushed by the accompanying handler.

On the second day, in the sixth brace, the champion and Phillips Off Line were braced and produced the strongest brace of the stake. The pair appeared to bring out the best in one another as they took turns executing their ambitious and industrious skills.

During that hour, the three-year-old pointer had finds at 28 and 57. Then, during the callback on Wednesday morning, when none of the four dogs called back found any game, Smooth Rider had an unproductive at 42 in dense cover at the back side, west of the Turner pines. He finished the hour a short distance north of National Championship Drive and was easily collected in order for the judges to see him, as was required at the end of each callback brace.

Phillips Off Line was handled by Mike Small when owner Nathan Phillips had an obligation that caused him to be unable to attend the first day of the Championship. Like the champion, and the other two dogs called back, Off Line demonstrated that he possessed all the qualities expected of an amateur all-age champion.

On the first day, in the first brace, the four-year-old pointer backed his bracemate at 42 and continued to have an excellent find at 58 just a short distance south of National Championship Drive.

On the second day, in the sixth brace and as mentioned earlier, braced with the eventual winner, the runner-up had a nice find in terribly dense cover at 16. He then hunted strongly the remainder of the hour and backed his bracemate on finds at 28 and 57.

During the callback, again braced with Smooth Rider, Off Line hunted diligently throughout the hour while neither dog found any birds. He was then easily located at the end of the hour in order that he could be seen by the judges and his placement was cinched.


Touch’s Fire Dancer, also owned and handled by Keith Wright, and Southern Sparkling Jule, owned and handled by Floridian Dr. Kent Cantrell, were  also  called back to run  on the third morning.

Kent Cantrell is a veterinarian from Ocala, Fla., who is much better known for his association with Brittany trials which have been his primary interest.

Fire Dancer ran a consistent, forward race during each of her three hours of competition. She, like the others called back, demonstrated every quality expected of an all-age dog. Birds were pointed twice during the fifth brace on the first afternoon. Her first find was at 8 in a thicket with cedar shrubs; her second was on the right at the distant end of a long bottom where she was easily seen for some time while the handler, judges and gallery galloped the length of the bottom.

During the first brace on the second morning, Fire Dancer had an unproductive at 36 and scored a nice find a 59 just a short distance into the Mary Scott Loop on the north side of National Championship Road. She, like the other three called back, found no birds on the third morning but demonstrated the same style and intensity exhibited in her earlier  appearances.

Southern Sparkling Jule hunted industriously, digging into the country and consistently popping out from time to time in an easy way. Her race on the second day was even better than on the first. Her first find, in the first brace on Monday, was at 14 a few minutes after crossing Buford Ellington Road and off to the west some distance in the area called Morgan Swamp. She handled the flush and shot well, just as she did again at 42 when she found birds in the long field between Turner pines and Turner ditch.

In the fifth brace on Tuesday she hunted with purpose for 56 minutes until finding birds near the end of the course. As mentioned, none of the dogs called back found any birds the third morning and none of the four caused their handlers any anxiety as they were all easily located after time was called in order that the judges could achieve the mandatory requirement of seeing the dogs at the end of the callback heat.

The judges requested Mohawk Mill Image and Reloaded be on standby but after the dogs called back had run the judges said they had made their decision and the stake was finished.

Mohawk Mill Image is owned by Gary Winall from Virginia. Image competed in the fourth brace on Monday and the first brace on Tuesday. He ran well both days and demonstrated great strength on the ground but had no birds either day. He backed Fire Dancer at 36 on the second morning when she had an unproductive in the Turner pines.

Reloaded, owned and handled by Kentuckian Jim Pendergest, was also on standby for the third morning but was not asked to run. He had birds twice on the first morning and demonstrated excellent ground work, sharing a divided find at 34 and then pointing again at 58 where Pendergest easily flushed two birds. On the second morning Reloaded shared a divided unproductive with Mohawk Mill Jacob at 32 but again hunted well throughout the hour.


In the order drawn, the first of the remaining six contenders was Mohawk Mill Jacob which won this Championship for Gary Winall last year and held an automatic invitation to compete this year. The handsome setter is now a nine-year-old and achieved three finds and one unproductive on the Ames grounds this year. He found birds at 37 in the third brace on Monday and at 8 and 20 on Tuesday afternoon. The find at 8 was near Ames Road and due east of the former hog facility. Winall was rewarded with birds at the end of a long flushing effort. Jacob’s second find was at 20 off to the left soon after crossing Ames Road. He continued to participate in a divided unproductive, shared with Reloaded at 32, but was not seen much during the remainder of the hour.

Worsham’s Silver Strike traveled from St. Joseph, Mo., with Joe Worsham. Unfortunately, he made a wrong turn on Monday and was gone most of the second half of the hour. On Tuesday he found no birds even though he was strong, independent and front running.

John Ivester of Charlotte, N. C., handled Erin’s Full Throttle in the fourth brace on Monday and the third brace on Tuesday. The dog is a strong all-age dog but had no luck on this trip. He had no birds the first day and shared a divided unproductive with his bracemate at 2 the second day. Ivester picked Full Throttle up at 31 on the Tuesday morning.

S F Mapleleaf, owned and handled by Larry Smith from Iowa, achieved an outstanding record to earn the highest number of points earned by any dog in the Championship. She showed her all-age capabilities both days but ran a more forward and swinging race on the second day. Unfortunately, like some of the other contenders, Mapleleaf did not find any birds either day in this contest.

Miller’s Martha White traveled from North Carolina with her owner Derek Bonner, an accomplished professional walking horse trainer who is respected in that industry as he has been a judge of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Championship. Martha White, which Bonner acquired from Dereck Layne, is the owner’s first field trial dog. Having one’s first dog earn an invitation to this All-Age Championship is no less than remarkable. Martha White had a good first day and a nice find at 37 just as she entered a new loop that has been added to the sixth hour course. The little female seemed to be sore on the second day and unable to reach as she had on the first day. She had a find on Tuesday at 14 after passing the Avent house and west of the field trial stables at the morning breakaway. However, Bonner picked her up before the end of the hour.

The last dog drawn of the twelve was Ascension, owned and handled by Matt Pendergest. Interestingly enough, Matt Pendergest is the son of Jim Pendergest who owns Reloaded that also competed in the Championship. Reloaded is the sire of Ascension. So, there’s a little genealogical information on the Pendergests and their dogs.

On Monday afternoon Ascension had two unproductives; the first at 3 and the second at 26 in the dense vegetation of the Jack Harris field. On Tuesday he had an unproductive at 2 in a divided stand with Erin’s Full Throttle. Although Ascension had rough luck, he was forward, independent, and showed excellent responsiveness and rapport with his owner.

Grand Junction, Tenn., December 4

Judges: Jonathan Burch and Michael Shears


CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats on Consecutive Days; One-Hour Finals] — 11 Pointers and 1 Setter

Winner—TOUCH’S SMOOTH RIDER, 1661245, pointer male, by Touch’s Knight Rider—Burrow’s Sinbad Lady. Keith Wright, owner and handler.

Runner-Up—PHILLIPS OFF LINE, 1656000, pointer male, by Phillips Warning Line—Phillips Bottom Line. Nathan Phillips, owner; Mike Small, handler.


Perhaps the best way to remember those who worked to make the 37th running of the Championship successful is in the approximate order articulated by David Williams in his closing remarks on Wednesday. He thanked the trustees of the Hobart Ames Foundation and Dr. Carlisle, Purina which was represented by Jim Smith, Garmin/ Tri-Tronics, Bruce Fox, and Piper Huffman who had expertly overseen every arrangement for the Championship.

Continuing, he thanked the judges, Michael Shears and Jonathan Burch, and the reporter, each of whom was given a commemorative AFTCA 100th anniversary knife.

Next Williams expressed appreciation to Ryan Braddock and Chris Weatherly who marshalled every gallery and helped everywhere needed. William Smith, who spends many volunteer hours mowing the field trial courses on Ames each year, was recognized.

Continuing, he thanked Vera Courtney for always serving as the wonderful photographer everywhere she goes, Ken Blackman for running the dog wagon, and Aubrey Green for road crossings security. This reporter apologizes for the oversight if anyone was overlooked.

Social gatherings and outstanding food were abundant every day. Piper Huffman brought food for the drawing, Gail Haynes, an outstanding caterer from Brownsville, prepared lunches each day and served a wonderful dinner at the National Bird Dog Museum on Monday night. Catherine Dean and her catering staff from Dancyville served a beautifully presented buffet of hors d’oeuvres in Mrs. Ames’ dining room of the Ames Manor on Tuesday night that was worthy of being presented in such a grand setting, while Charlie Frank Bryan was in charge of libations in Mr. Ames’ gun room.

Vera Courtney and Aubrey Green furnished and served sausage and biscuits, coffee, and hot chocolate each morning at the end of the first brace.

This National Amateur Invitational Championship went very well. Even a big rain with the possibility of an accompanying thunderstorm that was expected on Tuesday came during the night on Monday and did not interfere with the running the following day.

Being at Ames Plantation those three days was a genuine pleasure and handlers left the grounds with the hope of earning the privilege of being invited back in 2018. J. A.

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