Monday, February 07, 2005

Musings on the Steeplechase

The Event

The Steeplechase is a special tournament event within the USDAA. It has its own National (or International, I suppose) championship every year. Steeplechase courses are designed to be extremely fast, exciting to watch and fun to run. Courses are numbered, but they eliminate the teeter, the table, and the dogwalk; they repeat either the A-frame or the weave poles. In short, they're essentially jumpers courses with weaves and A-frame thrown in for good measure.

The course is judged on time plus faults, with no "standard course time"--whoever has the lowest combined score wins. However, an off-course immediately disqualifies you. To qualify for the nationals, a dog must finish in the top 30% of dogs competing at the same height. (Used to be top 25%, I believe, until this year?)

Regional qualifiers have two parts, usually run on two separate days. The top 30% of the dogs on Day 1 qualify to go to the Nationals and also qualify to go to the bonus Round 2 on the 2nd day. Round 2 does nothing else in terms of qualifying for the Nationals, but it is the only event in all of American agility that pays cash prizes. For example, for 26" dogs, the 1st-place dog takes home 10% of the total entry fees for the Steeplechase; the 7th-place dog takes home 1%; and anything below that in theory gets nothing.

My History in Steeplechase

I almost always entered my dogs in tournament classes even when I had no intention of going to the National Championships. First, it's good practice; second, it's a delight and a prestige (at least in my own mind) to have qualified and/or places; third, it's just good practice.

In my first few years of competing, I went to only a few trials a year, so I never encountered a Steeplechase until 1998.

Remington entered exactly 5 steeplechases--one a year--after that, and Qualified only once, in May of 20000 (11th out of, I believe, 11 dogs who moved up). In the 2nd round he proceeded to completely turn off and basically trotted around the course; the only reason he didn't finish last is because some faster dogs went off course.

Jake entered exactly 6 Steeplechases--one a year (none in 2004 because they sadly do not offer a Performance-level or Veteran Steeplechase)--and interestingly Qualified only in the same one that Remington qualified in, placing 13th out of (I think) 13 dogs who moved up. In Round 2, he turned into SuperJake and we were on a roll until the last few jumps in a swing around to a straight line to the finish, where he swung PAST one of the jumps and took the next one before I could stop him, for an off course.

So I've never considered myself a person who had Steeplchase dogs; I always watched from the sidelines.

Tika and Steeplechases


Clubs must be offering a lot more Steeplechases these days, because in only 2 years of competition, Tika has entered seven already. She E'ed (eliminated--off courses) in 3 of her first 4.

In her 5th Steeplechase Round 1, she placed 10th out of (I think) 10 or 11 dogs who qualified. In Round 2, we watched as other dogs knocked bars wildly or went off course (Tika had one bar down) and we placed 6th! We took home a check for $10. Try to imagine my excitement, after 8 and a half years of agility competition, to finally place in the money in the Steeplechase!

This weekend, we did even better in Round 1 with a faultless run, placing 4th out of 11 dogs who moved up. Some of the very fast local dogs weren't there, but many of the very fast local dogs were; this was not a cakewalk by any means. Now I've qualified twice in six-month span. Perhaps it's a fluke, but I think not. We placed 8th and took home a check for just over $5 (which is odd because I thought anything beyond 7th wasn't supposed to get a check--do you suppose I wrote our placement down incorrectly? Why didn't this occur to me yesterday when I could verify? Dang). We'd have placed a strong 2nd if it weren't for the knocked bar--and no one else can say that (because even others with knocked bars were slower than the actual 2nd-place dog).

Stay tuned in future months for more Steeplechase thrills and chills.

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