a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Steeplechase Saturday and Sunday

Monday, June 26, 2006

Steeplechase Saturday and Sunday

SUMMARY: An interesting combination of courses and dogs.

Steeplechase is a modified Standard course: It's numbered, but there's no teeter, no dogwalk, and no table, and one or two sets of weaves and two or one Aframe. Tika's pretty fast and very accurate on the weaves, so I like having two sets of weaves. She doesn't always stick at the bottom of the Aframe and wait for me to release her, so it's a challenge to work, but she almost never flies off it for faults, so it's still OK to have two Aframes.

Round 1

Usually Round 1 on the first day is a challenging, technical course that seems designed to weed out dogs. Usually if you have a clean run in Round 1, you're guaranteed to make it to Round 2; knocking a bar (or other fault) might allow you to advance, but only if you're very fast, because it's scored on time plus faults (one bar or missed contact = 5 faults = 5 seconds). And it has two sets of weaves and only one Aframe, so I'm satisfied.

But this course walked more like a Round 2 course, fairly fast and open without a lot of chances to really blow it. Once again, my strategy was to just be as calm and collected as possible, to try to avoid knocking bars (our big bugaboo). We got to watch all 50 22" dogs run and then about half a dozen of the 26" dogs, our direct competitors, before we were up. It was hot. Hot. Hot. Thermometer showed 109 most of the day starting shortly after noon; not sure whether it ever got up to 110 again.

Tika has been wanting to run all weekend. I don't get it. If I had her thick coat, I'd be flat out on the grass, tongue lolling out, the sweat glands in the pads on my feet exposed to the air, not moving. Instead, she sits up and stares at me and whines eagerly at intervals spaced exactly to drive me nuts. I have to keep walking away from our canopy, hoping she'll relax and not exhaust herself being anticipatory.

It's actually our third run of the day (tell you about Team later), and so she's not as fast and driven as earlier, which is OK and helpful for avoiding knocked bars. She's never a slow dog, but she's certainly not driving through this course. Once again, it feels smooth and comfortable; I let her drift wide on a couple of turns over jumps just to ensure that we don't knock any bars, which might cost us a second or two but I hope that'll be good enough.

Qualifying for Round 2

To earn a Qualifying score (and hence go to Round 2), there's now a formula. It used to be that you had to be in the top 25% of dogs competing at your height. Well--there were 25 26" dogs, so it would have been either 6 or 7 dogs going on to Round 2 under the old rules, depending on whether they rounded up--I think they did, but I'm not sure. So--turns out that Tika placed only 7th in Round 1 even with a smooth, clean run, which is unusual for Steeplechases, but that means that we either squeaked in under the old rules or just missed by 1 dog (which we've done a lot of times, I can assure you--that's worse than missing by really blowing it).

The running order for 26" dogs in Round 2.

Still, there are the New Rules: You average the scores of the top 3 dogs, and any dogs within 125% of their score (time plus faults) goes on to Round 2. This could mean that there are many fewer dogs or many more dogs than under the old rules, just depending on how fast the top 3 dogs are and how fast and clean the other dogs are in comparison. Today, 125% of the top 3 dogs is 42.47. Tika's time was 36.86--which is 3 and a half seconds slower than the first-place Border Collie, Kidd, a bad showing for Steeplechase--but in fact she could've gotten in even with a 5-point fault with that time, and overall twelve 26" dogs end up Qualifying for Round 2.

On Sunday, we'll run in reverse order of placement in Round 1. This is nice, because the later you run, the better you can see how much you have to push yourself to try to place in the money (about the top 8 spots will get a check).

Evaluating Round 2

On Sunday, Round 2 is first thing in the morning, so those roughly 25% of us who made it are walking the course. (It's nice not to have a really crowded walkthrough so you can actually SEE the course and not bump into people.) We've got 2 Aframes instead of 2 weaves, but I figure I'll just try to get in the "OK" release command the nanosecond that her front paws touch the ground with her rear paws in the yellow zone, so we won't waste much time there. It's going to be iffy as to whether she'll even stop, though, because I've been releasing her pretty early anyway all weekend and she's getting lighter and lighter on her stop, and if she doesn't stop at all, she'll get ahead of me and that's when we risk off courses or other odd errors.

But, oddly enough, this course looks more like a Round 1 course--it's VERY technical with NOwhere for the dogs to open up and really fly. In some ways that's good for us because, on a straight out course against some of the world-class dogs competing here today (e.g., Luz, Tala), we'd likely lose; but in another way, that's bad, because it gives us more opportunities to knock bars. But I think we can manage it. Sure, there are off-course opportunities, but nothing that speaks to me with a capital Danger.

Running round 2

Tika running Steeplechase Round 2. Photo by Erika Maurer--thanks, Erika!
We watch the first few dogs in our group run, and a couple run clean, and there are some dropped bars and such but I don't see a lot of errors. That means that we'll have to run clean to try to place in the money. She stays at the startline long enough for me to get into position (dang, she's been waiting for a release all weekend and now it's going to pot again). The first Aframe is the 6th obstacle in--and not only does she NOT STOP, but fer crying out loud, she FLIES OFF IT above the yellow zone, not even making an attempt to hit the bottom, and that's a 5-point fault (same as a knocked bar) and there goes our chances of being in the money at all! Crap crap crap. But it sort of takes the pressure off me to be perfect, and oddly enough it does NOT cause us to go offcourse and I manage to get her back in line very quickly, and she flies through the rest of the course--flawlessly. Crap crap crap, I can't remember the last time we had a missed-contact fault! Crap crap crap.

So I wander away cursing and fuming (although trying to be pleased about keeping all our bars up) and don't come back until the results are posted--gosh darn, it turns out that all except 6 of the 12 dogs had offcourses for Elimination, and Tika has placed *third*! With 5 faults! I also don't know when the last time was that that happened.

Here's the other really weird thing. Under the old rules, let's assume that they rounded down so only 6 dogs would've qualified--then neither Tika, nor Tala, nor Stan, nor Buddy would've qualified for Round 2. However, the only 6 dogs who did NOT go offcourse were:
1st: Blew, time of 29.47 seconds plus 5 faults (bar?)
2nd: Stan, time of 34.62 seconds, very slow for a Steeplechase Round 2
3rd: Tika, time of 30.54 seconds, plus 5 faults (aframe)
4th: Buddy, time of 37.27, really slow
5th: Coty, 33.27 plus 5 faults (bar?)
6th: Tala, 28.49 plus 10 faults (you NEVER place in the money with 2 errors in steeplechase!)

Amazing. So most of the very fast dogs had offcourses. Anyway--we take home a check for $22, which almost exactly covers our cost of *entering* the steeplechase. (grin)

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