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Windy weathers retriever semis
By Steve Bowman
Great Outdoor Games staff

STUTTGART, Ark. — Weather was king in the semi-finals of the Super Retriever Series. Well, actually it was queen — Windy, a female yellow Labrador retriever, blew through the field on a day that started with a three-hour fog delay.

Dana Giovannello & Windy
Dana Giovannello and Windy of Cabot, Ark., lead heading into Sunday's final.
Handled by Dana Giovannello of Cabot, Ark., Windy leads the competition after completing one of the cleanest runs of the week on Saturday. The yellow Labrador scored a 16 in a series that proved too much for most of the field.

For instance, Jerry Day and Nike — the top dog on day two — stumbled on one mark and racked up more than 40 points, eliminating them from the field.

While Giovannello and Windy lead, Chris Akin and Boomer are tied for second with Jessie Sheppard and Rebel, both with 26 points. Reece Hudson and Kay Lee are fourth with 33 points. Stacey West and Brandy are in fifth with 37 points, and Jimmy McMahan and Ice round out the final six with 40 points.

The final six compete on Sunday, with the top two dogs advancing to the ESPN Great Outdoor Games in Reno, Nev.

Anything is possible

The odds-on favorite appears to be Giovannello and Windy. But Day and Nike's disappointing round proved that anything is possible, especially in the Super Retriever Series. A throng of about 2,000 people looking over the shoulders of both dogs and handlers has a way of doing that.

It was as realistic as you could get. It was obvious among the finalists that hunting experience made a big difference.
Dana Giovannello, handler of the first-place team heading into Sunday's finals.
"That was my biggest worry, the crowds," Giovannello said. "It wasn't the pressure so much as I was worried if she would be able to see me."

The handlers worked in front of a black fence, but over the top of it were rows of spectators, making the event look more like a tee box at a golf match than the standard field trial.

Giovannello didn't need to worry, though. Windy had little trouble with a course that included four marks and a blind retrieve.

"She was in her element," he said. "This was a hunting test. The first two days were field trials, but this was Windy's kind of test."

It included four marks and one blind. The first mark was thrown 125 yards away. To pick it up the dogs had to traverse a course that was angling away from them in a rectangular shaped rice field. The path took them over several levees with varying heights and across a section of swimming water.

The second and third marks were thrown simultaneously toward the dog and were used as double breaking birds, while the fourth mark was thrown before those birds had settled into the water at approximately 150 yards directly behind those falls.

The final retrieve was a blind retrieve at about 240 yards over a path that took them from running water, over the second and third fall areas, into a flat field with a Canada decoy set that provided suction to the left of the retrieve.

The tricks that caused the dogs most of the problems started at the line. Each of the handlers was required to lay in a covered Final Approach coffin-style blind on the ground with their retrievers sitting next to them. In addition to the two competitors, four other gunners — two on each side of the dog — lay on the line. At the release of the first mark, the four hunters and the handler popped out of the blinds, shooting a volley at the thrown mark.

As soon as it hit the ground, marks two and three were thrown, with the same volley following it. Then the fourth and final mark was thrown.

"It was confusing for the dogs, to have all this popping up and shooting right next to them," Giovannello said. "But it was as realistic as you could get. It was obvious among the finalists that hunting experience made a big difference."

Giovannello's point was well taken: the top four dogs going to the finals are Grand Hunting Retriever Champions.

A crowded field

Adding to the confusion at the line was the anxiety for handlers and dogs of performing in front of large crowds with cameras and cameramen scattered across the field.

This a sport of teamwork and I blew it.
Friday's leader Jerry Day, after his mistake in marking a landing spot pushed his team out of competition Saturday.
But the confusion at the line wasn't the only thing the dogs had to handle. The second and third marks landing simultaneously often distracted the dogs long enough to keep them from keying on the fourth mark falling 125 yards away.

"That was the big key in why Windy did so well," Giovannello said. "Most dogs are accustomed to three marks, and that's all. I wanted Windy to know that fourth mark was coming, so I said 'Mark, Mark,' to get her to keep her head up and ready."

It was the fourth mark that proved the undoing of Day. But it wasn't Nike that didn't see the fall. It was Day who didn't see it and thought it had landed elsewhere. His efforts to handle Nike away from the fall cost him the trip to the finals.

"It was my fault," Day said. "If I would have left her alone and she would've picked up the blind as cleanly as she did, we would be in the finals. This a sport of teamwork and I blew it."

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