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Akin, Boomer take Retriever Series
By Steve Bowman
Great Outdoor Games staff

STUTTGART, Ark. — Chris Akin and Boomer obviously have a connection.

Akin and Boomer exhibited an almost telepathic-like connection in capturing the Super Retriever Series title
All week long organizers of the Super Retriever Series have said that the courses set up in this contest are supposed to test the bond between handler and retriever. But it wasn't until the final day that it became obvious.

Akin and Boomer exhibited an almost telepathic-like connection in racing through the course and capturing the Super Retriever Series championship.

The team posted an almost flawless final round, scoring 13 points in two marks and two blind retrieves. Second place went to Dana Giovannello and Windy of Cabot, Ark. with 26 points. That team tied in points with Jimmy McMahan and Ice, but Giovannello was given the spot based on the amount of time it took to run the course.

McMahan and Ice completed the course in a total 6 minutes, 44 seconds, while Giovannello and Windy finished just 47 seconds ahead, in 5 minutes, 57 seconds. It was the first time in Super Retriever Series history that such a slim margin of time dictated who would qualify for the ESPN Great Outdoor Games. In each Super Retriever Series event the top two finishers qualify for the Great Outdoor Games.

Other top finishers included Reece Hudson and Kay Lee in fourth with 43 points, while the remaining teams, Stacy West and Brandy of Wendell, N.C. and Jessie Sheppard of Tishomingo, Miss., tied for fifth with 54 points.


A deceptive course

While the test didn't seem overly difficult at first glance, there were problem areas that caused every team in the field — with the exception of the winners — to gain points. They mostly came on the first down mark or the second retrieve.

What made it so difficult was that you've got no depth perception.
Series winner Chris Akin, on the difficulties handlers were having on the course Sunday.
"I knew that I would have to mark that bird," Akin said. "The way the test was working, you couldn't count on the dogs nailing it and remembering it. So when it went down, I marked a brown clump of grass, knowing that if I could get Boomer close it wouldn't be a problem from that point on."

Boomer, though, didn't need Akin's help in marking. On that, the second retrieve of the round, the retriever stepped right in the middle of the brown clump of grass.

"It was like he knew," Akin said. "I knew then we were going to be all right."

Akin and Boomer were the only handler/retriever team to line that mark. By the time the team was getting ready for the final blind retrieve they had only 6 points, few enough to risk a penalty. And it didn't take Akin long to get one.

The final mark was a short blind retrieve that required the dogs to take a straight line up and over a small mound of dirt 30 yards from the casting line before proceeding to the retrieve. Not taking that line meant an automatic 5-point penalty.

"Boomer just missed it," Akin said. "But I said, to hell with it, I'll take the five points. It took me one whistle to handle after that."

While Akin was being conservative with his whistle, other handlers weren't so lucky. They found trouble spots throughout the course.


Tough approaches

The test was made up of two marks and two blind retrieves.

The first mark down was the second bird picked up. The bird was thrown from right to left, quartering away from the dogs, at a distance of 225 yards. The retrieve required a land-water-land-water-land path through think underbrush and over five contour levies.

The second mark was thrown wide to the left of the casting line and quartering away at 150 yards.

"What made it so difficult is that you've got no depth perception," Akin said. "You could be shallow or you could be really deep and not have any idea where the bird is."

That was a potential problem for each team on all the retrieves. A case in point was Stacey West and Brandy, who finished fifth. West, on one of the retrieves, handled Brandy 40 yards past the bird and was still trying to push her back, thinking she hadn't gone far enough.

"The short distances of this test don't really sound all that impressive," Giovannello said. "But you've got all this junk on the ground that looks the same and there is nothing for a dog to get a mark on."

That was a big factor in the final two blind retrieves. The first blind was placed 240 yards away, angling across the field, forcing the dogs to go from land to running water, land to swimming water, land to running water to land.

The second blind was much shorter, at 100 yards, but the dogs were scored on an extremely tight casting line. "We wanted them to take an extremely straight line," said Jack Jagoda, Super Retriever Series judge. "We didn't give them even five degrees of variation."

The competition was the second of three Super Retriever Series events that serve as qualifiers for the ESPN Great Outdoor Games this July in Reno, Nevada. The third and final Super Retriever Series event will be held May 15-18 in Northfield, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis.


Final results

Place, Handler, Hometown		Retriever	Score

1. CHRIS AKIN, JONESBORO, Ark. BOOMER 13

2. DANA GIOVANNELLO, CABOT, Ark. WINDY 26

2. JIMMY MCMAHAN, COVINGTON, Tenn. ICE 26

4. REECE HUDSON, DOVER Ark. KAYLEE 43

5. STACEY WEST, WENDELL, N.C. BRANDY 54

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