Friday, November 11, 2005

FRIDAY: GP, Standard, Power and Speed

Backfill: Thurs, Nov 17
photos later

This is my busiest agility day with 5 runs in 4 rings. We've been grabbing the free continental breakfast at the hotel and heading for the show site. I'm usually pretty good about getting going in the morning, but my estimates are off when I have 3 dogs to worry about pottying successfully, let alone taking them up & down 4 flights of stairs for each trip. So we've been a little rushed each time.

Jackie dropped me off in the parking lot a mere 3 minutes or so before my first scheduled walkthrough, in Ring 1 at 7:14. I cross the last two rows of the parking lot, duck under the fence (they didn't think thru the competitor access very well), trot down the gravelly slope, across the dry wash, up the slope on the other side. Past the first giant crating tent and out the gate past ring 4. Cut out and around rings 2 and 3 because you can't just go past them. Past the Dock Dog pool. I'm jogging as much as I can, but I'm not up to jogging the whole way. Past the end of ring 2, past all the vendors in the vendor area. Past the food vendors and the USDAA Hospitality tent. I arrive ringside just as they're announcing the switch to my group's walkthrough--according to my watch, even with jogging, it took me 5 minutes to get from the parking lot into the ring. Sheesh.

That's my Grand Prix Quarterfinals walkthrough. The course really doesn't look bad to me at all; I think we can handle it easily without an offcourse. I'm hoping that this year we run clean; a mere knocked bar kept us out of the semis last year, but our time was good enough to make it without the fault. Many of my friends placed high enough in the Bay Team Regional Qualifier in September to earn a Bye to the semifinal or final round. We, of course, managed to go offcourse in that particular GP qualifier, although we had good runs in most of the NONregional GP qualifiers last year. I'd really really like to make it to the semifinals, at least.

There are a few reasons why. (1)I just want to prove that we can do it! (2) You don't get a cool polo shirt until you make it to the semis. (3) The Veterans Grand Prix used to allow any old dog who had qualified for the nationals in previous years to run; this year they upped the requirement to only veterans who've made it to the semifinals. Fortunately, Jake managed to do that once (just barely). When Tika gets older, I'd like her to be eligible, also, assuming that they continue to run the Veterans Grand Prix.

At 7:56, my Power and Speed walkthrough commences. I've got Jake and Tika entered in this. You must first complete all the contacts plus weaves, in any order, within a specific amount of time, to be allowed to continue to the jumping/timed portion of the course. The Good Lord only knows what I was thinking when I entered Jake, since he pops his dogwalk contact 98% of the time. And it's risky for Tika, since she often misses her dogwalk up. But I come up with a course strategy that I think will handle both--making a sharp turn from the teeter directly to the dogwalk, so that Tika doesn't have enough speed to jump over the up contact, and so that Jake is aimed out towards the side of the ring with no other obstcles in front of him to give him reason to want to jump off early. Maybe it'll slow him down.

At 8:24, I get my 10-minute walkthrough for Team Standard. It looks like a slightly challenging course but wide open in several places, which is Tika's kind of course. If I can hang onto her through the couple of challenges, we'll probably do well. This is one place where I appreciate having a dog who can be relied on to stop on contacts--there's a jump about 12 feet straight in front of the dogwalk, but you have to turn the dog 180 away from you into a tunnel instead of taking that jump. Will be hard for dogs with running contacts.

Despite the excruciatingly detailed walkthrough schedule, there's no walkthrough scheduled for Veterans Grand Prix. Last night, someone told me that they had asked and were told that the walkthrough was in the afternoon before the runs (starting at 3:00). However--surprise--about halfway through my 10-minute Standard walkthru, they announce that Veterans should be walking the GP course *now* during this 10-minute slot. It distracts me a bit... I want to make the walkthrough and debate cutting out of the Standard walkthrough early, until my mind clears and I realize that no one will know if I just wait until the next group and then walk with them.

So that's what I do, starting at 8:38. Veteran Grand Prix is supposed to be the same course as Tika's Grand Prix, but in a different ring. Now, all courses all weekend are split between 2 rings. That means that someone attempts to set up exactly the same course in 2 places. Whenever this has been done, I have never ever seen 2 courses that have exactly the same challenges. Moving a jump by a foot or changing its angle by 5 degrees or the tunnel entry moving a few inches can mean the difference between life and death. And the same holds true here.

For example, the weave pole entry in Tika's ring is much harder; you have to push out to it, while here it's in flow with the preceding jumps. However, in Tika's ring, the dog looks from the starting line over 2 jumps and can just see the corner of the A-Frame that's #3; in Jake's ring, the tunnel that's under the A-frame sticks out completely visibly into the dog's view over the first 2 jumps. In Tika's ring, it's not visible to the dog at all. So I'm going to have to lead out farther with Jake to make sure I'm in position to yank him up the A-Frame, especially since he refused it twice on Thursday.

The weather is unclear. There's supposed to be a chance of rain. It starts out sunny, gets very cloudy, gets sunny, gets cloudy. In fact, it never rains at all, but it is quite a bit cooler than Wednesday.

OK, then, unlike yesterday, I get into the GP ring with Tika right away at 9:00. I'm calm. She runs smoothly and professionally. She keeps all her bars up. On the last third of the course--starting with the dogwalk--she misses the up contact. Everything else is lovely. Dag blaggedy blag. I won't know for sure until the end of the day, but in fact this year she misses the 50% cutoff to the semis by 8 dogs because of the fault. Her time alone would've placed her securely among the 41 dogs going on, at about 25th place.

Then we get a brief respite and Jake runs Power and Speed around 10:00. He does the teeter nicely, runs across the dogwalk--I decide on the strategy of slowing down, coming to a complete stop behind him, saying nothing. He slows wayyyy down, hesitates--and flies right off the down contact. Bam, our run is over. I run him off the course rapidly over a few jumps so that I can get to the finish-line side and so that he can actually run a little teeny bit, and he's very fast and happy.

Tika runs a while later, and she handles the opening sequence marvelously. Then, halfway through the closing, I for some unexplained reason make a front cross that I hadn't intended to make, meaning that 2 obstacles later I end up behind her trying to push her over a jump, which she struggles mightily to make despite my clumsy effort, but knocks the bar in the process. It also slowed her down several steps, at least. She ends in about 51st place among 120 dogs, but if you ignore all faults, she's the 30th fastest dog. (But only 1.5 seconds behind the fastest dog, to show how tight close some of these times can be!)

Then I get a bit of a break for lunch and shopping and socializing...and pottying and exercising dogs, as usual. My Run-TMZ teammates both run the Standard course without Eing (which is the key in Team events), although they have faults. The pressure's on.

Jake is up first in Veteran's Grand Prix, with the group starting around 3:00. And--as I start to lead out, he takes off running, gets ahead of me, and zooms right into that too-visible tunnel, offcourse immediately. I ask the judge whether we can keep going (having noticed that pretty much all dogs who E have been immediately leaving the course, but not having read or heard any such rule), and the judge graciously says yes. It is, after all, Veterans, and this might be the only class for some of them. Now, to make it worse, JAKE RUNS FAST, and HE DOES FAST WEAVES (which he hardly ever does in competition any more), AND.... HE MAKES HIS D***M DOGWALK DOWN CONTACT! That's because this course also has a 180-degree turn from the dogwalk into a tunnel, and I bust my little california buns to get way ahead of him, so that as he's coming down the ramp I'm in front of him and I tell him to TURN with a big body & arm gesture before he's even in the yellow zone. So he takes a couple of steps to think about it, which puts him into the yellow contact zone, and then he flips perfectly into the tunnel and finishes the course in style. Curse that cute evil little doggie!

Although in fact I'm very pleased with the run, considering that this is probably his last USDAA run ever, since I don't think I want to jump him at 16" any more.

Finally Tika is up in Team Standard, our group starting around 4:00. Well--she's wired. Totally. I can tell before we go into the ring that that magic switch is flipped. And, on this course, where I really really don't want an E for an offcourse, I don't think that's necessarily a good thing. We do some calming exercises before stepping into the ring.

She actually stays at the start line. I do my leadout. I release her over the first two jumps, which stay up--and she is off and running in true World Champion style. She does everything super fast. She and I seem to be in perfect synch, making our turns tight and hitting every obstacle in the perfect location. She gets her up contact on the dogwalk. She makes the perfect, fast turn into the tunnel at the end of the dogwalk. We're heading for the home stretch--a chute followed by a sharp turn into a U of jumps. I need to make a front cross to make that sharp turn, but despite getting ahead of her before the chute, I decide that I can't make the cross with her speed, and I hang back--and she goes off course coming out of the chute. I quickly pick her up and finish the U of jumps, all of which she keeps up, still blasting away.

I am floating on adrenaline and joy with the pleasure of the run at the same time that I'm teetering on the brink of despair for that dang offcourse. I'm like that most of the day, but by evening the despair has worn away and the memory of that nearly perfect run is the overwhelming feeling. I'm happier about that run, I think, than about our high-placing Snoooker run. I need to run the video and try getting a time for the course if we hadn't done the offcourse to see whether she still might have placed (although I did hold her briefly on the contacts in all cases).

So that was our competition day. A mixed bag but not a disaster. As for Run-TMZ, my E in Standard was a big contributor to us dropping to 121st out of 205 teams. We'll try to make it up tomorrow in Gamblers and Jumpers.

In the evening, it's the Steeplechase finals and we stay and watch. Man, those dogs are fast. I reported on them in the Bay Team Blog.

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