American Field

Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo Named Winner

National Free-For-All Championship

By Elton Bray | Apr 20, 2017
Lester's Sunny Hill Jo Winner of the National Free-for-All Championship

Fitzpatrick, Ala. — The 2017 renewal of the National Free-for-All Championship was concluded March 24 at the all-age grounds of Panther Creek Farms in Fitzpatrick, Ala. A top-quality field of 32 was drawn for the trial with 31 vying for the championship title. Birds were plentiful and the competition was intense.

This trial concluded my three-week adventure of reporting three major trials, and I must say this particular event had you standing in the stirrups for nearly every brace. For a canine to compete at Panther Creek it must be toned and ready for the long edges and open country. Someone once said, “Being at Panther Creek is like being on the prairie.”

The judicial panel consisted of Frank Rutland, owner of Panther Creek Farm, and Harvey Crosby of Prattville, Ala. Their decisions on the callback, which would not have been an easy task, and naming the champion were well received. Both gentlemen rode very attentively in search of “the one.”

An appreciative debt of gratitude is owed to Frank and Colleen Rutland for the use of their facilities and property. While there, I had the privilege of residing with them in their elegant home. Mrs. Colleen always made sure I had exactly what I needed and Mr. Frank had a cup of coffee waiting every morning. This couple is to be commended for their gracious hospitality.

Another big hats off to club President Rick Stallings who also owns a large portion of the three one-hour courses. He takes care of many of the behind the scene duties, from supplying the dog wagon with refreshments to taking the entries and writing the checks. He knows how to take care of business.

Assisting Rick with his duties was Marcelino Rangel. Marcelino also manned the dog wagon and was always in the right place at the right time.

Delicious lunches were prepared and served each day by Colleen Rutland, Becke Blanton and Jane Rutland Reed. They are all very handy around the kitchen and made sure no one went hungry.

As customary, the owner of the previous year’s champion provides a dinner the night before the callbacks. This year’s event was hosted on Wednesday night by Eddie and Carole Sholar, owners of 2016 champion Touch’s White Knight. Prime rib and all the delectable trimmings, prepared by Steve Williams, was a huge hit for all who attended.


The judges called back six pointers and two setters to compete in the ninety-minute finals. Reigning National Champion Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo has been on quite the winning streak and topped it off by being named National Free-for-All Champion. Jo is co-owned by David Thompson of Edmonton, Ky., and his handler, Gary Lester of Gracey, Ky. The four-year-old white and orange ticked pointer male had a total of seven finds and a profound ground race that earned him the title.

Jo contended in the third brace of the callback with Skyfall (Steve Hurdle). Temperature was in the low 60s and the birds were on the move. His first game contact came at 9 nearing the Joe Rutland line. He stood tall and intense as the bobwhites flushed. Skyfall was found styled up at 10, but this was unproductive. At 17 past the Joe Rutland Gap in the sage field, Jo pointed for a second time. Lester did try flushing once but was not productive. Nearing the crossing just before Show Bottom at 22 he styled up again, this time producing a very nice band of birds. At 26 both dogs reached Show Bottom and rimmed the far edge as the judges and spectators watched from the hill. Neither pointer bobbled while they grasped the entire bottom. Jo’s third find came at 34 after swinging back toward the Merriweather Pond. Sky pointed again but it was also unproductive and he was harnessed.

As we reached the Merriweather Bottom everyone was watching with intensity and at 41 Lester held his cap in the air once more. The bevy got up just ten yards in front. His fifth bold find came at 45 on the other side of the Merriweather Pond. Swinging back around the bottom at 1:01 Jo was not seen, and in the distance the voice of scout Mark Haynes was yelling “Point!” The judges had to ride hard to get around the hedge to the other side of Bird Alley, and as they arrived the big staunch pointer was assured he had birds for a sixth time. As soon as Lester dismounted, they flew.

The first and only time during the entire trial we made it to the hay field beside the Rutland House was in the last 8 minutes of this heat. Jo had gone missing at 1:26. Lester rode frantically, calling on his champion, as he sent Haynes out in search. Almost in unison as the judges called pickup, Lester called point. At the very end of the hay field in the right-hand corner there stood Jo again just as  handsome  as he was on his first find. The birds flushed which awarded him with his seventh game contact.

As Lester was harnessing Jo after the intense brace, he said, “That’s the longest hour and a half I’ve ever been through.”

Judges paired Just Watch (Daniels) and Erin’s Hidden Shamrock (Derrig) in the first heat of the callback. At 8, nearing the power line, Daniels rode up to Watch pointed on the right side. He called flight of birds, but judges were not in sight. Daniels relocated the strapping pointer twice but was unable to produce more game. Shamrock’s first sleek find came at 24 at the end of the Drag Strip. Watch came in from the left and honored. Shamrock produced game three more times; 44, 1:14 and 1:24, and was just as staunch on the last as the first. He competed at a nice smooth pace and completed the hour and a half. Watch hunted the front for an hour, and was put on the wagon at 1:01.

Contending in the second brace of the finals were Stardust Chaz (Hurdle) and Touch’s Blue Moon (McLean). Moon had a slight mishap at 28 and was harnessed. Chaz was hunting far to the front headed up the power line at 58 when he swapped ends. Hurdle only made one circle in front of the fashionable setter when a nice covey flew in the distance. Nearing the back corner of the Reynolds Place at 1:14 Chaz was found on point for a second time, and was rewarded again as the birds left the ground. His third piece of game contact came at pickup on the east side of the Bristo Place. Chaz contended the 90 minutes with an energetic, advanced stride.

The last brace drew Lester’s Power House (Lester) and Mercer Mill Moon (Morton). House was not able to bring forth game at 25. He was picked up at 37. Moon was missing from the front at 22 and Morton called for the retrieval device at 39.


Drawn for the first brace of the 45-minute qualifier on Monday morning with the temperature at 45° were Penny Free (Phillips) and Pinion Point Joe (Rayl). No game contact was made, but both contenders completed the heat.

Stardust Chaz (Hurdle) and Touch’s Blue Moon (McLean). Nearing the condo stand on the power line at 12, both dogs were pointing, styled up beside each other. Hurdle and McLean generated a nice bevy. The dogs then pushed to the front, hunting the edges, for the duration of the heat which earned them both a spot in the callback.

Just Watch (Daniels) was swinging to the front headed to the Joe Rutland Gap at 15 when he styled up on the left side of the hay field. Daniels only had to take a few steps for the flush. With just five minutes left, approaching the gap at the Meriwether Pond, Miller’s Hennessy (Martino) was credited with a nice, classy find. Both dogs completed the 45 minutes hunting the front behind the levy of the Bristo Pond.

Both House’s Buckwheat Hawk (McLean) and Erin’s Rebel Rum (Derrig) completed the heat, but neither dog generated game.

Drawn in No. 5 were Funseek’n Hit Man (Daniels) and Rocky Knoll Jackson (Rayl). Jackson started off with a bang producing a nice covey at 4 on the Bristo Line. Hit Man disappeared at 20 and Daniels threw in the towel at 34. Jackson concluded the brace in search of more game at a nice gait.

Cassique’s Boss (Hurdle) and Erin’s Hidden Shamrock (Derrig). At 22

Shamrock styled up. Derrig called flight of birds, but judges were not in sight of the flight. At 30 he pointed once more. They were a bit difficult to flush, but after a strong relocation he had them pinned. Both dogs finished and competed at a vigorous quick pace.

Lester’s Power House’s (Lester) first find came at 7 crossing the first hedge-row. He was quite elegant looking around his game. His second came 31 hunting the left edge of the Magoo Line. House contended the heat with a snappy, steadfast gait. Dominator’s Rebel Heir (Daniels) was not able to generate game, but ran a powerful and graceful race.

Mega Blackhawk’s Progeny (Hurdle) was unlucky on the right line in front of the hog trap at 25. He finished hunting strong to the front. Touch’s White Knight (McLean) was also unfortunate at 14 at the end of the power line. He too completed the 45 minutes.

Erin’s Redrum disappeared not long after the breakaway and Sean Derrig asked for the retrieval device at 23.

Skyfall (Hurdle) was credited with two very impressive finds. His first, at 17, was very far to the front, and his second at 39 at the Meriwether Pond. He was powerful the entire heat, and endured Show Bottom without a bobble. The two game contacts and strong hunting earned him a spot in the callback.

Starting off Tuesday afternoon with the temperature at 83° were Just Irresistible (Daniels) and Miller’s Dialing In (Lester). Both dogs started out forcefully as they took to left edge behind the levy on the breakaway.

Irresistible was heading through the first hedgerow at 11 and swapped ends to the right, and was rewarded with a staunch find as the birds flushed. Dialing In came in from the left and honored. His second find came while hunting the right edge of the Bristo Pond, and was just as pretty as the first. Dialing In was unsuccessful at 28. He finished the brace hunting hard to the front. Irresistible was energetic and snappy for the duration.

Sinbad’s Rumor (Daniels) had no game contact, but ran strong the full heat. Coldwater Thunder (Hurdle) was  strong on the ground and carded a nice all-age find just as pickup was called.

Touch’s Game Point went far to the front right off the breakaway and McLean called it a day at 22. Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo (Lester) scored three very handsome finds. His first was at 24 which included a strong relocation, the second at 41, and the final at pickup. His strong athletic ability and snappy gait earned him a place in the callback.

Mercer Mill Grand (Morton) ran solo in the 13th brace when Fire Line (McLean) was scratched. Grand was endurable and classy until the end. He carded a very pleasant find at 34.

Neither Quicksilver Gold Dust (Hurdle) nor Sandhill Trig (Rayl) completed the heat. Hurdle asked for the retrieval device at 39, and Rayl just before time was called.

Coldwater Hammer (McLean) ran with a nice forward gait and completed the brace. Mercer Mill Moon (Morton) was extreme on the ground taking in all of Show Bottom without a stumble. Just before pickup was called the faint voice of scout Lake Odum was heard calling “Point!” Morton and the judge had to ride hard through ditches and briars to follow the sound of Odum’s voice. As we arrived Moon was styled up with great confidence, and as the bird flushed he never blinked. This performance earned him a callback berth.

Fitzpatrick, Ala., March 20

Judges: Harvey Crosby and Frank Rutland


[Forty-Five Minute Qualifying Heats; Ninety-Minute Finals] — 28 Pointers and 4 Setters

Winner—Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo, 1655546, pointer male, by Ransom—Miller’s White Wall. David Thompson & Gary Lester, owners; Gary Lester, handler.

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