THERE is no way we can talk about anything other than Crufts this week because this time next we’ll all be there, and you will hopefully be sharing the experience because if you are not able to get there then your favourite canine websites will make sure you don’t miss any of the important bits.

There are more than 21,500 dogs are entered at Crufts this year, the highest since 2010 when the total was 21,947.

This year’s entry of 21,564 dogs, including the Obedience Championships and gamekeepers’ classes – but not the Agility Championships which have another 50 dogs – is an increase of nearly five per cent on 2013’s figure of 20,566.

From 2006 to ‘09 the number of dogs exceeded 22,000. Before that the only year with more than 22,000 was 1991, the centenary show which drew a world record 22,991 dogs.

Best in Show 2013 is the Basset Griffon Vendeen (Petit) Ch Soletrader Peek A Boo (‘Jilly’) Reserve Best in Show Labrador Retriever
IT. Ch. Loch Mor Romeo

As ever, the event has a true international flavour with 2,663 dogs competing from overseas, compared to 2,131 in ‘13, an increase of 25 per cent. Dogs from a total of 48 overseas countries will take part in the show compared to 41 last year.

Unlike last year when Labradors led the field, top breed in ‘14 is the Golden Retriever where Janet Barrow and Lynn Hennessy have 298 males and 301 bitches making a total of 599 dogs.
Labradors have 548 dogs and other gundog breeds with more than 200 are Irish Setters 376, Flat-coated Retrievers 374, Cocker Spaniels 366, Pointers 237 and English Setters 204.
Boxers head the working group with 222, followed by Bernese Mountain Dogs 211 and Rottweilers 204.

In the pastoral breeds Bearded Collies have 316, Border Collies 301, Shetland Sheepdogs 278 and Rough Collies 231.

Staffords head the terriers with 367 while Borders have 303, the top entry for a breed with one judge, Melanie Lewis.

In hounds, Whippets have 417, Afghans 252, Beagles 222, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks 221.

Cavaliers lead the toys with 335, Longcoat Chihuahuas 260, Pugs 256, Papillons 246 and Chinese Crested 208,

The utility breeds are headed by Bulldogs with 247, Tibetan Terriers 215, French Bulldogs 202 and Dalmatians 200.

Eurasiers have 41 dogs entered on their debut with breed classes, and Catalan Sheepdogs 29.

Foxhounds have the lowest entry, six dogs, though as usual there are no entries for Kuvasz which are still scheduled. Turkish Kangal Dogs have their own classification for the first time, drawing eight dogs while those still classified as Anatolian Shepherds have seven.

The any variety imported register classes, for breeds currently on the imported register and who were not qualified previously to compete at Crufts, will compete for the second year, and have attracted 137 dogs.

“Crufts continues to grow in size and popularity, as the number of dogs entered into this year’s event is five per cent up on last year,” said Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko. “The fact that dogs come in their tens of thousands to Crufts is testament to the immense popularity of the event, and we thank everybody in the UK and overseas for their continued passion for this esteemed event and its many world-class competitions.

Oliver and Erin Robertson with the Crufts trophy

“We also look forward to welcoming thousands of other dogs and their owners who make Crufts such a wonderful event, from those who take part in the Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme and Young Kennel Club rings and the numerous displays to our Friends for Life and Scruffts finals and those dogs in the Discover Dogs area, which help visitors to understand more about the different breeds.”

Jilly – more than just a Crufts star

The Crufts 2013 best in show winner will surely be remembered as one of the most popular wins of recent years – that happy smiling hound ‘Jilly’ who was to become a household name and leave behind a legacy that is more than ‘just’ a Crufts best in show winner. Dog World’s ADRIAN MARETT recently spent some time in the company of Gavin and Sara Robertson and of course the conversation was all about Ch Soletrader Peek A Boo.

I CAN remember being at Three Counties showground on a sunny June day in 2010 when Gavin Robertson casually mentioned to Jill Peak that he had named one of his recent Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen puppies after her – Soletrader Peek A Boo. Little did anyone know that she would become a household name over the next three-and-a-half years.

Jill herself played a part in her namesake’s claim to fame when at 17 months she awarded her a second CC at Crufts 2011, before she went on to win the group under Eleanor Bothwell and reserve best in show under Paola Dondina.

True to the breed Standard, that happy-but-with-a-glint-of-bedevilment hound captured the public’s appreciation. On the journey home after that first group win she managed to destroy the group winner’s rosette – a true to form PBGV!

It’s fair to say that Jilly’s success would be described in the modern media as a ‘rollercoaster’. Following on from her first appearance in that Crufts Arena she finished 2011 as top hound, Top Dog all-breeds for 2012 and then there were only two accolades she hadn’t yet clinched – the breed record which she was to equal with her famous dam Ch Soletrader My Aphrodisiac and the Crufts top award – but Geoff Corish changed all that when he pointed to Gavin and Jilly on that Sunday evening last year.

Gavin, Jilly and Sara with children Erin and Oliver at a photo shoot before their Crufts victory.
photo Croft-Elliott

The Soletrader kennel is very much a family affair with Gavin and Sara, who have been together for almost 13 years now, and their two children Oliver (aged seven) and Erin (four) based in Oxfordshire.

The affix, which has made up 34 PBGV champions to date, does indeed come from the chain of shoe shops, the Robertsons seeking inspiration from a trip to Reading’s Oracle Shopping Centre. They are, naturally, loyal customers to the brand name!

Gavin and Sara both progressed through the junior handling ranks, Sara (then Pettit) being JHA Junior Handler of the Year in 1990. Gavin’s original breed was Beagles and Sara’s Smooth Collies and Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers. Indeed Sara had won an all-breeds BIS with the homebred Wheaten Ch Jesena Chantilly Chick.

Sara Robertson won the international junior handling final at Crufts 1991 handling former Crufts BIS winner, the English Setter Sh Ch Starlite Express of Valsett. and Gavin won best junior handler at the Hound Association of Scotland under Marjory McGregor

Gavin has been involved with PBGVs since before the breed gained CC status in 1985 and in the early 1980s he and his mother Joan acquired their first Petit from Richard and Carol Gilbert’s Vendric kennel. Vendric Aprodite was the first of the breed to reside in Scotland, where Gavin grew up. Gavin described her as ‘a big hairy Basset with a Queen Ann front’ who was difficult to show. She enjoyed some puppy class successes and was duly mated to Nick Frost’s Ch Salto de Crislaure of Morebess.

Two influential PBGVs – Mike Gadsby and Ch/Am Ch Afterglow Woody Woodpecker and Gavin with Ch Willowbrae Amazing Grace with Afterglow (Jilly’s granddam), seen doing the double at Blackpool 2001.

Some time later Gavin was working for Mike Gadsby’s Afterglow kennel and Mike was keen to get involved with the breed with Gavin’s help. They both went to see a litter bred by John Clifton and came back with what was to become Ch/Am Ch Famecliff Chemin-de-Fer (Teddy) who at his first show, aged six months, took the RCC handled by Gavin. Gavin recalls arguing with Mike over who should show Teddy and it was agreed that the dog would be owned by Mike, but shown by Gavin. He became Gavin’s first group winner at Bath 2000.

Teddy was to father the famous Ch/Am Ch Afterglow Woody Woodpecker following a mating to Debucher Merdeuse for Afterglow, bought in from Viv Phillips’ kennel which has been involved with Petits and Grands for many years. Woody was the breed’s first UK general championship show best in show winner at South Wales 2002 under Marion Spavin. He also won the group at the World Show in the same year and was top hound for that year, as well as twice BOB at Westminster. Incidentally, Woody is living out his retirement with Gavin’s mother at almost 14 years.

Meanwhile Judith Robin-Smith of the Willowbrae affix had acquired a bitch, Clunebrae Kikimora of Famecliff, who was to become an outstanding producer. Her offspring included Ch Willowbrae Amazing Grace for Afterglow (Grace) and Ch Willowbrae As You Like It (Amos), the former becoming breed record holder, a group winner at the Amsterdam Winner Show and BIS at the first Basset Griffon Vendéen World Congress in 2000, before being overtaken as record holder by the latter. In more recent years the record has been held by Grace’s daughter Dizzy and then, of course, equalled by her daughter Jilly.

Dizzy was mated to Ch/Dutch Ch Cappuccino van Tum-Tums Vriendjes, then co-owned by Gavin and Gwen Huikeshoven from the Netherlands who has worked with Soletrader’s breeding programme.
Jilly was from a litter of all bitches and stood out from an early age, although she was a raw youngster, not being shown until she was nine months where she was second in her class. Her second show was Darlington 2010 when Martin Sanders awarded her a first CC; BOB that day going to her father.

A few weeks before Crufts 2011 Gavin was walking her up the drive and said to Sara “We’ve got something special here; this could be dynamite!” And so it was when she was awarded RBIS behind the veteran Flatcoat Sh Ch Vbos The Kentuckian.

Her winning ways continued throughout 2011 and she ended up as top hound, as well as a foray to the Amsterdam Winner Show to take BIS under Mr Dondina again. She had taken her first all-breed BIS at Paignton, and a few days later achieved one of the Robertsons’ ambitions by topping the Houndshow. In all she won eight groups that year It was at this point that the Robertsons thought she had the potential to go for the Top Dog award the following year. “It’s everyone’s ambition to try for it, so we decided to concentrate solely on Jilly,” they said.
She started with a bang with BIS at Boston and Manchester and by Belfast she was far enough ahead on points that she couldn’t be caught for the Top Dog spot. By this point she was co-owned by Sara and the Robertsons’ Canadian friend Wendy Doherty who has had a number of Soletrader exports.

She was shown at all but two general championship shows, one of which was Driffield where Martin Sanders was doing the breed so she went into the champion stakes which she won overall. She won six all-breed BIS that year and both the Houndshows, topping the hound group an amazing 18 times.

Gavin and Sara both say they were overwhelmed with the support they received during that year from fellow exhibitors, their flexible kennel staff who were willing to step in at short notice when they had to return for the final day’s BIS judging and Sara’s parents Chris and Brian who have looked after the children.

There was only one thing next to achieve – Crufts best in show! The decision had already been made that, whatever the outcome, this would be Jilly’s swansong and retirement and a litter would follow.

Preparations began in earnest when on Boxing Day Gavin instituted a fitness regime for himself and Jilly: four-and-a-half miles of road walking a day up until a few days before the show. Little did he know this exercise would spin off into a much larger ‘walk’…

When show day arrived the breed was second in the ring which meant an anxious wait and when open bitch was called the ringside audience was growing to see how Jilly fared. Breed specialist Linda Lewis awarded her the class, CC and BOB. She was on her way.

Group judge Ben Reynolds-Frost had already awarded her a CC and her first BIS of 2012 at Boston. She was the ringside’s favourite – Petits are a breed which have showmanship and for the general public possess the ‘cute factor’.

Considering the breed is a numerically small one and still relatively ‘new’, their success when it comes to Crufts group placings is worthy of note. From 2007 until 2013 we have seen one in either the group 1 position (Jilly) or group 2 (Jilly’s parents Cappuccino and Dizzy (twice) and Jilly in 2012). Also for good measure the breed scored top spot in 1997 with Viv Phillips’ Debucher C’est Ca and another group 2 in 2006 with Phil Freer and Marita Rodgers’ Switherland Ysatis. So Jilly was on the group winner’s rostrum for the second time in three years. It was a case of waiting until Sunday evening’s best in show competition. With a second appearance in the Crufts main ring, Gavin says he felt much more relaxed this time around, his main concern being that Jilly got her tail up on the move. She did and Geoff Corish could find nothing to lower her colours and she was crowned Crufts best in show and retired from the show ring after winning 28 CCs (equalling the breed record with her dam), 24 groups, five RBIS and eight all-breed BIS in the UK plus her Amsterdam victory. Gavin, Sara and Wendy were then whisked off for the Kennel Club after show party and then continued over at the Metropole Hotel, finally getting into bed at 4am. Gavin was up two hours later to be interviewed for Radio 5 Live.
They received numerous requests for media appearances, among them The Alan Titchmarsh show and Comic Relief where Oliver and Erin could be seen alongside the formidable Keddell Memorial Trophy. It certainly was a ‘good’ media story for the press – young family with crowd-pleasing dog wins world’s largest dog show. Press calls were turned down from sources which might not been intent on portraying the sport in a negative light.

It was during the Comic Relief appearance alongside Miranda Hart and Clare Balding that Gavin spoke to Clare about what was at this point a modest fundraising exercise. “During all the interviews I did, I thought it would be a good idea to turn Jilly’s win into something positive for pedigree dogs,” he says. Clare was supportive and this ignited what was to be known as ‘Jilly’s Jolly Jaunt’.

A sponsored walk from Birmingham to London seemed logical, from the scene of Jilly’s victory down to the Kennel Club’s headquarters. They spoke to Tibetan Spaniel exhibitors and near neighbours Liz Scoates and Heather Simper who suggested the Grand Union Canal as the route and with meticulous planning over no more than six weeks from conception to the start line the 140-mile journey began over five days.

Fellow walkers Tom Isherwood, Lee Cox, PHil Freer, Marita Rodgers and Frances Krall are pictured along the canal with Gavin and Amelia.
photo Kyprianou

There was no shortage of volunteers to take part and raise money on the jaunt. As well as a fundraiser it was a public relations exercise. Allthe high profile and vulnerable breeds were represented at some point, the other Crufts group winners who competed alongside Jilly, and 18 owners of previous Crufts BIS winners. KC chairman Steve Dean did a stint, as did Clare Balding and her Tibetan Terrier and Stuart Baillie, Simon Parsons and myself from DOG WORLD, everyone completing four or five four-mile segments, some opting to walk further.

Amelia Siddle who had won the Young Kennel Club stakes with her Pointer Sh Ch Wilchrimane Ice Maiden accompanied Gavin with ‘Flo’ and Paul Sparks who co-owns some of the Soletrader PBGVs acted as driver and co-ordinated the various segments of the walk.

The total money raised was £49,000 from sponsor money and donations from individuals and companies involved in dog showing which was split between Great Ormond Street Hospital (£29,400), DogLost (£17,150) and the KC Charitable Trust (£2,450). The ‘idea’ had snowballed! As Gavin says, “it brought the dog world together for a week.” By the end of the week, it was estimated, 248,348 steps had been taken, 584 miles were walked by the dogs, 17,917 calories burnt, 11 blisters treated and six dogs found themselves in the Grand Union Canal!

Pictured handing over the cheque at Great Ormand Street Hospital – Sara, Gavin, Amelia Siddle and Stuart Baillie of DOG WORLD.

Talking to DOG WORLD just after the jaunt he said: “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how big and successful Jilly’s Jaunt would become. I’m the proudest person in dogs today, and so should everyone else be who contributed in some way.” Not wanting the momentum to wane and on the back of the success of the jaunt, it was decided to form the Peek A Boo Trust which will have a remit of organising future fundraising ventures involving future Crufts best in show winners in some way or other high profile dogs to raise money for canine and children’s charities. Gavin is keen to emphasise that there is no pressure for future winners to attempt activities on a scale as large as the jaunt if they don’t wish to.

The trust’s official launch coincides with the Pawscars on the evening before Crufts, March 5. This event, as the name suggests, is the canine world’s equivalent of the Oscars – an awards ceremony to honour those deserving of recognition throughout the sport. Gavin hopes it will “aim to raise the bar” in all nominated ‘of the year’ categories – judge, championship show, open show, training class, exhibitor, steward, breed note writer, journalist, trade stand, photographer, junior handler and breeder, with an unsung hero and outstanding achievement award also awarded.

With over 400 people attending this black tie affair it looks set to become an annual celebration of all that is good in the world of pedigree dogs.

But back to the dog whose name the trust bears. Following the jaunt Jilly was mated to two different dogs not long after the KC allowed puppies to be registered from dual matings without the need for advance permission. She was mated to an unshown dog the Robertsons have, Gaelmarque Bon Ventura with Soletrader, and the well-known Ch Soletrader Dunc N Disorderly who was runner-up top stud dog overall one year.

‘Duncan’ has not proven a dominant sire and the Robertsons hoped he would ‘cement’ Jilly’s many attributes and ‘Ace’ has also fathered numerous champions. There is an amusing story that accompanies Duncan. The Robertsons were looking to rehome him locally but still to be able to use him at stud. They received a phone enquiry about him and invited the lady to visit the kennels and meet Duncan. When the arranged meeting time came a group of nuns in their habits turned up asking to see Duncan! Gavin was nervous of approaching the subject of stud work with the Sisters who are very forward thinking (Duncan actually has his own Twitter feed @BroDuncanPBGV). Even they joke that he is the only one in their house who has sex!

Jilly produced a dog and a bitch and DNA tests have shown that Duncan is the father of both puppies.

It was a quick turnaround to get Jilly back in condition after motherhood to compete at the Eukanuba World Challenge where the Crufts winner gets an automatic qualification. The event is held alongside the American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Challenge where Jilly won BOB and hound group 3 under Frank Sabella, as well as a breed specialty BIS.

In the World Challenge she was drawn in Peter Green’s group for judging. He had given her a BIS in the UK to add to her tally and chose her as one of his three to go forward to the final. Also going through from another group was Jilly’s grandfather Ch/Am/Can/Dutch Ch Soletrader Bjorn Borg with Gwen Huikeshoven representing the Netherlands. Quite an achievement for two dogs bred in the same kennel to make the final 12.

Looking to the future, 2014 will see some new young stock coming out, including Jilly’s daughter. Sara concentrates on the Basset Fauve de Bretagne, in which Soletrader has made a mark. Indeed the Crufts BOB last year was co-owned by Sara so they had two BOB winners in the group ring.

An imported Miniature Schnauzer bitch is arriving from Argentina and a promising Beagle puppy has seen Gavin return to his original breed.

So as the Jilly daughter Soletrader Annie Mac makes her way in the world she has a lot to live up to. Returning full circle, she is named after Anne Macdonald who, as well as awarding one of Jilly’s BIS victories, went to school with Jill Peak, aka ‘Peek A Boo’!