Bryan Hall was jammed for the drawing on the
evening of February 12. Thirty-nine dogs were entered, and Flip
drew the next-to-last brace. He would run Thursday afternoon of
the second week. John Proud Bear's two entries were drawn for the
first week. Little Otto came with Sister, a striking woman, over
six-feet tall with chiseled features and flaming red hair and freckles,
as handsome as her father had been ugly.
Back at our cabin after the drawing, Doc and Jack
and I sat before the fire.
"Are you feeling all right, Jack?" Doc asked.
"Sure," said Jack, "just a little tired out from all the excitement . .
. there's a lot of good dogs this year, Doc. Even if Flip doesn't
win, it's been great to make this run for it. These two years
have been icing on my cake; I never expected it, don't deserve it . . .
I'm sorry about not letting you run Flip in the amateur stakes . . . ."
"Flip's going to win--I feel it in my bones," Doc said.
"Many a fool owner has said that--I guess that's why they keep paying
their money to old handler fools like me," Jack said.
I went to bed, and Jack and Doc stayed to watch the fire slowly die.
"Doc," Jack said, "you know a handler spends a lifetime looking for
that one dog, the one with it all . . . Flip is that one dog for
me. What’s happened these two years is a miracle, like a good
"You’ve got to promise me one thing, Doc: to look after David
when I’m gone."
"Hell, Jack--the next thing you know, he’ll be finished college and
back on that rock-bound farm looking after you," Doc said.
"Just promise me," Jack repeated.
"I promise—now let’s get some sleep, you old buzzard," Doc said.
Opening Monday dawned to leaden skies and a slow
drizzle. The assistant secretary introduced the judges and
announced the first bracemates, their handlers, owners and
scouts. Judge Roy Fry said,
"If you're ready gentlemen, let 'em go."
Like "Gentlemen, start your engines" at the Indy
Brickyard and the bugle notes of My Old Kentucky Home at Churchill
Downs, the judge's quiet words opening the National Bird Dog
Championship sent a chill up the spine of all who heard them. The
rite of selection of the year's best bird dog had begun, just as it had
for a century. As the gallery rode down the breakaway stretch behind
the chanting handlers and the judges, all eyes were glued to the fleet,
graceful dogs, at their peaks after thousands of hours of patient
training and conditioning. The handlers prayed silently, watched
their dogs with the intensity of surgeons beginning an incision . . . .
As the first week ticked by, the weather remained
overcast; birds were plentiful and moving about; and the dogs were
pointing them with pleasing regularity. Several performances
seemed worthy of the Championship. Most thought one of three dogs
the likely winner, each with a good race and eight finds.
"That's plenty," Jack said. "More than that
and you take something away from the ground race, or more likely have a
At the close of the running on Friday, Judge Roy
Fry, bone tired, was looking forward to a long soak in the tub when the
chief marshal cantered up and passed him a message.
"May I have your attention, please? " Judge Fry
called out to the gallery in his high-pitched voice.
"Bessie Johnson has come in season and been
scratched. We'll move the bye dog, Takeover Bill, up to her place
on Thursday afternoon, and he'll be braced with Halifax Flip for the
The gallery reacted with astonished silence.
Everyone knew of last year's planted chickens and their rumored
source. Now Takeover Bill, fresh from wins of the Continental and
the Free-for-All, would be braced with Flip, who had defeated Bill in
the Florida Championship a month ago. It was as if Secretariat
and Man O' War were to run a match race--a dream brace.Judging a field
trial is mostly art, but some science. You must do it a brace at
a time. In the first brace you pick the dog you would name the
winner in that brace, and record its race in memory, making some notes
on what the dog did and where, what you liked and what you
didn't. With that performance in mind, each ensuing brace is
watched, to see if one of the dogs in that brace beats the "best yet"
performance from the earlier braces. That's how the judges keep
the best performance in mind and minimize the confusion of watching
many dogs over many days.
Judging can be very difficult, or reasonably
easy--depending on how much or how little performances differ in
quality. In the judge's nightmare, none of the dogs gives a
standout performance--all have some faults in their work, and the job
boils down to picking the dog with the fewest mistakes. This
National had not been that kind, for there were good performances to
pick from. But it was hard to distinguish the three best.
The judges would be saved from a tough decision only if one of the
remaining dogs put down a truly outstanding performance.
The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday braces of the second week were run in
bright sunshine with only a few finds for any of the dogs.
Wednesday night brought rain. In Thursday morning's braces, the
handlers leashed their dogs after two hours and roaded them in toward
the kennels, disappointment on their faces as rain dripped from their
hats and flowed down their bright yellow rain suits.
The gallery had been light for Thursday morning's brace. The
weather was miserable, and the prospects of Takeover Bill and Flip
braced together for the afternoon’s final brace influenced many to save
While none of us in Flip's camp held much hope for
the weather, our spirits were high, for Flip was back in top condition,
at the peak of his form. As the gallery gathered for the
breakaway, Doc tipped his hat to Norman Klensch, perched awkwardly
astride his black horse. Klensch ignored Doc's gesture.
"If you're ready, gentlemen, let 'em go," Judge Fry
said and punched his stopwatch.
Just as the dogs were released, the wind shifted to
come from the west, and the sky began to clear. A front was
coming through. Bird-finding conditions should improve, but the
rain had left the grounds soggy and treacherous under the horses'
feet. The two big dogs hit their strides, and the
chanting voices of their handlers rang across the fields, woodlands and
swamps of the Ames Plantation. Soon the dogs began to trade
finds, one on the left, the other on the right. The boom of the
handlers’ shotguns recalled the cannon that had boomed here a hundred
twenty years before when Bedford Forrest raced through after his raid
into Union-held Memphis. Birds were moving again, feeding on the
edges; nature was cooperating.
Flip was doing what he did best: gliding the
edges, turning always forward, a showy dog on the showiest of
grounds. The gallery held its breath, expecting a point at every
six-foot stride of the graceful, high-headed dog with the waving white
flag of a tail. Takeover Bill, not as light-gaited as
Flip, showed his great power on the long edges. He was a proud
perfectionist on his points.
"Handling is likely to make the difference," Doc
said. "If the birds start moving off the edges and into the
woods, either dog could easily be lost on point."
At the two-hour mark, Flip and Bill had twelve covey
finds each; the gallery was electrified, for with an hour to go, the
two dogs had already earned the best bird scores of the Championship.
As the handlers reached Pine Hill, both dogs entered the woods on the
left. When they did not promptly reappeared, the handlers sent
their scouts. Doc and Lefty Swartz rode into the woods and began
to search for the dogs, Swartz taking the deeper route. Soon Doc
spotted Takeover Bill on point and called, "Lefty, here's your
As Swartz approached, Doc said quietly, "Stay here and I'll go get a
judge." Then he rode to the woods edge, called “Point” and raised
his hat and told the judge where Takeover Bill was pointing. In
the meantime Flip had shown to the front, so Doc returned to the
gallery. When Swartz returned to the gallery, he rode to Doc and said,
"Thanks. You could have just ridden past, and I'd never have
found my dog on point--I was already by him. Or you could have
ridden up his birds. That's the orders I've got from Mr. Norman
Klensch if I get the same chance with your dog. Three hundred
bucks extra every time I do it."
Doc asked, "That what you're going to do?"
"Hell no," Swartz said. "I'm not rich, and I
know I never will be, but nobody's going to make a crook out of
me—especially not for a lousy three hundred bucks."
Later in the heat Swartz found Flip on point and
signaled to the judges. Then it happened. Doc saw Copenhagen's
reins fall, and Jack slump in the saddle. The white horse stopped
the moment it’s reins touched ground. Doc cantered to
Jack's side and eased him from the saddle. An ambulance,
following on a road for just such an emergency, was near. The
paramedics placed Jack on a stretcher and gave him
oxygen. Jack was conscious and breathing, but in
"Doc, go with Flip," Jack whispered. "Flip's
got it won if you can keep him on track another thirty minutes."
"David can handle Flip. I'm going with you,"
Doc said. His tone permitted no argument.
Doc nodded to me, and I mounted Copenhagen and sang
out to Flip, who was just completing a cast along the woods edge far to
the front. Our dog stopped and looked back, recognized
Copenhagen. He took my whistle signal and cast
ahead. On the way to the hospital in Memphis, Doc
injected Jack with Streptokinase. Then he attached the rubber
tips on the EKG wires to Jack's chest. The signals went through
the airwaves and the reading came back from the Cardiac Center at
Memphis General. The printout confirmed what Doc feared, a heart
"How long have you known about this problem?" Doc
"Couple of years," Jack said. "I get a
pilot-license checkup every year at The Greenbrier Clinic. They
picked it up."
"Damn," said Doc. "You shouldn't have taken on
Jack said, "Truth is, I've lived longer than
if I'd quit--better too." Jack slipped into unconsciousness.
With five minutes to go in the heat, Flip entered
cover ahead and did not re-emerge. I rode in search, but could
not find him. With five minutes left in the grace period, I was
frantic. I guided Copenhagen to a knoll in the pinewoods and
stopped, looked desperately in all directions. Just as I was
about to turn back, I heard a faint sound in the distance.
Copenhagen was blowing, so I dismounted and walked a few steps beyond
him. I heard it again--a faint yelp. Flip's point
signal! I screamed "Point," remounted and rode for Flip at a
gallop. He was on point in a depression, almost
hidden from view by honeysuckle vines. Judge Roy Fry arrived; I
flushed the birds and fired the shot. Flip held steady.
"All right, son, pick up your dog," Judge Fry said
with a huge grin.
Flip had finished with sixteen flawless finds and no
unproductives. Four times he had relocated running
birds. Takeover Bill had fifteen finds, no
unproductives, and a good race as well. His performance would
have won him the title any year but this.
Back at the Ames manor house the club officers put
on coats and ties and walked on to the gallery where a huge crowd
waited on the lawn.
"This year's National Champion is Halifax Flip," the
After cheers and congratulations, Judge Fry asked to
speak. "Ladies and gentlemen, I want to take this occasion to
tell you that I am retiring from judging today. Thank all of you,
my dear friends, for the wonderful times you have given me by allowing
me to judge your dogs. I believe you will agree with me that
today we have seen the greatest performance by an all-age bird dog in
our lifetimes, maybe the two greatest performances. The good Lord
couldn't have given me a better trial to retire with. God bless
Through the manor house door behind Judge Fry I
heard the muffled ring of the telephone. Instinctively I knew
what the ring meant. It was Doc calling from Memphis
General. Jack was gone.
I, Jack Slone, of Greenbrier
County, West Virginia, make this my will.
I leave my great-grandfather's Civil
War saddle to Homer Ferguson of Houston, Texas, in accordance with the
agreement we made involving his Louisiana oil play.
I leave all my interest in the setter
Halifax Flip equally to Dr. James D. Bates and David Burch.
I leave all the rest of my estate,
including my farm in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, to David Burch
with the hope that he will enjoy it throughout his life as I and my
forebears have before him. (He already owns 25 percent of High
Stakes Limited Liability Company, of which Sy Beale owns 15 percent and
I own the rest.)
I want to be buried at my farm beside
my wife Ann and my ancestors. Graveside service only.
Dinner to be served afterward.
They came from all over the country and from
Canada. Patrons and competitors, fellow Marine veterans, golfing
and fishing buddies, the governor of West Virginia. A Marine
honor guard fired a salute, and its bugler played taps. Dinner,
catered by The Greenbrier, was served afterwards in the house with the