Two teams competed during the Dogs Unleashed event at Bakewell on 25th June. Fortunately the preceding period of very hot weather had abated and the day was mainly overcast and at times threatened rain. The dogs got hot while racing but were comfortable between races.
On the day, the All Blacks had the fastest time in Division 2 (19.35 seconds) and won their first and last races 3-0 with clean runs. Unfortunately too many errors were made in their other races and they ended up fifth in the division.
The Lone Stars had a more successful day, although they were without one dog (Toby) who had to withdraw due to an upset stomach. Two of our older and partially retired dogs (Jake and Bryn) filled the place by taking more runs than they otherwise would have. The team had consistent and largely error free runs with very good crosses and the judge noted they were the closest crosses in the division. This was good enough to win all races until last race when they came up against local team Peak Performance who were a few tenths faster. This loss dropped them to second place in Division 4, just behind Peak Performance, with a fastest run of the day of 21.75 seconds.
The Lone Stars ran on Saturday and achieved 3 wins and 2 losses to finish in 3rd place in division 11. The team had a new dog running and also two new handlers. New dog Toby performed faultlessly in his runs but at the start of the day the team made too many handling mistakes and lost their first race against Fenland Gun Fire. The team recovered to beat Watson’s Stop Time, but then lost to Bring your Own Balls 2. In the afternoon, the team beat Delta Detrimental and then had two very close heats with Carry on Regardless, with Flint, the Lichfield team last dog, just piping his opponent to the line. In the third heat a Carry on dog ran into the Lichfield lane to retrieve a fumbled ball, forfeited the heat and gifted the win and divisional third place to the Lone Stars.
The All Blacks ran on Saturday in division 9. The team had a new handler and new dog, Paddy, who also performed well on the day. At first, particularly in the first warm up, Paddy was somewhat nervous and overawed by the noise and action compared with training sessions but soon settled and ran confidently all day.
The All Blacks started with a win against Fenland Wildfire but then lost to Rotherham Runaways. They then came back to win against Funky Phoenix and had a very close race with Bring Your Own Balls that the All Blacks eventually won 3 heats to 2. At this stage, (with one loss), they were in joint second place but the event was very close, as Rotherham, who were in the lead, had also had one loss. They had the same number of wins as the All Blacks but had beaten them when they were head to head. In the final round of races Bring Your Own Balls beat Rotherham Runaways, leaving the possibility of a win for Lichfield if they beat Water Orton H in the final race.
In the first heat of the final race, the lead Water Orton dog ran to the wrong box resulting in a technical win for Lichfield due to interference. The following heats were very close, with last dog Paddy just getting to the line first giving the team the race win and taking the division with 4 wins and 1 loss.
Both teams had a good day’s racing. Their times were not as fast as anticipated; indicating improvement will come with more change over practice. Three handlers did well at their first day’s racing and the two new dogs performed excellently. This was especially pleasing as the atmosphere in the hall was particularly challenging for a novice racer as on both courses the race lanes were very close together and it was noticeable that many teams had experienced dogs mistakenly run to the wrong box.
You win some and you loose some and on this occasion the All Blacks lost. They did mange to win one race but this was not enough to avoid propping up division 9 at the first indoor national championships. Unlike their near faultless performance at the national championships (held outdoors) this was a catalogue of errors with every handler/dog pair making mistakes. Considering the current team line up has been dipping under 19 seconds in training they certainly had the potential to win and did lower their best ever time to 19.27 seconds (running against Fenland Flash). This was faster than the division’s best seed time but, on the day, a number of teams raised their game and either went faster than this or ran with far fewer errors.
A particular problem for the All Blacks was the number of ball fumbles which may have been due to the dogs finding it difficult to approach the box under control as they were skidding on the tuff spun matting. The team had not run on this surface (as used for the top indoor events) for five months, which could have been relevant.
While the number of errors was disappointing all dogs and handlers enjoyed themselves at what was generally a good and very pleasant venue. The area outside the competition rings was a bit tight as dogs waiting to compete as well as entering and leaving the ring were very closely packed.
Over the last year their has been a significant change in Flyball with some teams now choosing to specialise and only compete at indoor events on tuff spun matting which produces a more controllable course that is always identical and which enables the dogs run faster than on grass turf. While Lichfield members were present during the Saturday speed trials (where the fastest seeded 18 teams run as fast as they can to qualify for Divisions 1, 2 and 3) we witnessed High Flyers Team (based at Houghton Regis, Bucks) break the British record time by a hundredth of a second lowering it to 15.64 seconds. They were able to repeat this time two heats later. We were not present on the Sunday to see if Supersonic Saltires (based in Edinburgh and previous record holders) or Water Orton (based Birmingham) were able to break this record. All three teams are now indoor specialists.
Aces Team (based in Kent and winners of the 2016 BFA National Championships held outdoors) are the only British team we know of that have been able to run under 16 seconds on an outdoor course. The All Blacks fastest race times have also come at indoor events. Their training times have been faster on the Hilton Arena polytrack surface (waxy sand/rubber), which gives more grip than tuff spun and the dogs do not skid on it. Hopefully, over the winter, as the team moves to indoor events they will be able to come to terms with the tuff spun matting surface and realise their potential.