CALGARY – For a man like Dale Montgomery, who virtually owns the Calgary Stampede’s World Stock Dog Championship trophy, three years without a trip to the winner’s circle must have already felt like a lifetime.
But if an opportunity like this had slipped through his fingers, he’d have probably measured the wait for 2012 in dog’s years.
Monday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Montgomery was about to shut the gate on three penned sheep and lay down a time – one minute, 25 seconds – that would have been virtually impossible for the 14 other teams to match during the championship final of the Stampede’s 15th annual World Stock Dog Championship, presented by Smithbilt Hats.
One impulsive ewe had other ideas, and escaped just as Montgomery as closing the gate. Thankfully for the Maple Creek, Sask., resident, and his six-year-old border collie Ben, the woolly trio was back in the pen 45 seconds later – and that time of 2:10 would hold up to give Montgomery an unprecedented sixth title at North America’s richest indoor stock dog trial.
Montgomery, who pockets a cheque for $10,000, had previously won the Stampede’s World Stock Dog Championship in 1999, 2000, and 2003 with Gyp, and then in 2006 and 2008 with Tex.
“All the sheep tonight were real hard to pen, a little testy to pen,” said Montgomery. “With Ben, I thought I had ’em in there at one point, and I was just about slamming the gate, and one squirted out. It took us a while to get ’em back in, but we did it.”
This year’s Stampede stock dog trial began with 66 teams, a number that was whittled to the final 15 after the first two preliminary rounds. As with the preliminaries, Monday night’s canine competitors had four minutes to guide three sheep around a demanding obstacle course of barrels, through a chute, and into the pen.
As Montgomery noted, only six dog-and-handler outfits out of 15 managed to stop the clock before it expired. And as usual with this competition, there were a handful of hard-luck stories.
Jimmy Walker of Hillsboro, Tex., the 2005 Stampede champ, and his companion Mitch encountered an extremely nasty pen of sheep, one of which took a couple of runs at Mitch and ran the clock out at the chute. Last year’s Stampede reserve champion, Wendy Schmaltz of Beiseker, Alta., and Gin had their sheep through the chute at the 1:04 mark, but from there the obstinate ovines simply circled the pen until time was up.
Diana Gauthier of Lumby, B.C., and her dog Kit suffered the unkindest cut of all. They had two in the pen at the 1:38 mark, but one stubborn ewe wouldn’t co-operate, all three had cleared out a dozen seconds later, and the 2007 Stampede champ wouldn’t come that close again.
One pair who weren’t in the lamenting mood were Dave Claypool of Cranbrook, B.C., and Glen, the event’s defending titleist. They stopped the clock in 2:33, a time that stood up for the reserve championship and a cheque for $4,000. In six years at Calgary, Claypool and Glen have won it all once, and finished runners-up twice.
“Pretty hard to complain tonight,” said Claypool. “And I’d be lost without Glen. He’s an excellent dog. I try to steal too much of the credit sometimes, but he’s 90 per cent of the package.”
Montgomery was one of three handlers, alongside Gauthier and Louanne Twa of High River, Alta., to have qualified twice for Monday’s final. And while he and Zip scored a no-time, they still collected $1,000 for the best aggregate time through the first two rounds of the World Stock Dog Competition.
Zip has great bloodlines – he’s the son of Tex, and the grandson of Gyp – and Montgomery still has high hopes for his future Stampede title hopes.
“He very easily could have won it tonight,” said Montgomery, who along with Zip had their three sheep enter the pen at the 1:58 mark Monday, and then beat a hasty retreat. “It’s tough to get to the final, but once you’re there, it’s anybody’s game.”
The Stampede’s World Stock Dog Championship is sanctioned by the United States Border Collie Handlers Association and the Alberta Stock Dog Association.
The Stampede will be webcasting all events being held in the Saddledome and the Big Top this year. Visit ag.calgarystampede.com/saddledome-ustream-2011 for live streaming of Saddledome action, and ag.calgarystampede.com/big-top-ustream-2011 for events under the Big Top.