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Course Analysis: Steeplechase Semifinals

Julie Daniels shares her thoughts on today's course.

Most handlers led out quite a distance on this course, many all the way to #3.  The opening line offered the well-practiced challenge of the #2 jump angled outward, requiring dogs to turn against the jump to get to the inward #3, which opened into a straightforward serpentine and an inviting line to the first set of weaves at #7.

Dogs entered the tunnel at #8 and then they were flying.  Virtually all handlers chose to run the upcoming long line with dog on left.  Most handlers blind crossed the take-off side of #9 and took off running to set a full extension line of about 75'.  One major challenge was set by the inward angle of jump #11, and many teams miscommunicated about whether #11 was indeed the turning point of the line.

All the handlers had jump #12 on the brain as an obvious problem.  Push too hard and you drove to the off-course at #1.  Support too little and the dog turned away from #12 (the lesser of the evils, since this was Steeplechase and refusals are not faulted per se).  There were many bobbles here.  The most successful handlers pushed hard and carried the entire extension line through #12.  Time lost by a wide turn was made up in ground speed over dogs that hesitated and had to be sent or even resent to #12.

Some handlers chose to front cross on the landing side of the #9 jump, and that strategy played well also.  My own feeling is that the blind cross run-run-run was faster because the dog had full sight of the long line so much earlier that way. Handlers were evenly split about whether to cross before the A-frame or after or not at all, but every handler wanted dog on the right for the long jump and into the #17 tunnel.  And here it got very interesting.

On the course map and in the walk-through, the #15 tunnel was a gentle and even C shape, with the exit facing the A-frame.  The apparent challenge was a matter of getting the dog's attention to the long jump, which would set up a straight approach and an easy line to the next tunnel at #17. But, because the midsection of the tunnel was not secured, that is not how it played.

The line from the #15 tunnel to the #16 long jump became a telling point on the course because the dogs turned too tightly to the long jump and took it from the handler side rather than from the front.  This was a function of tunnel shift.  The dogs exited the tunnel about 30 degrees closer to the long jump than planned because there were no tunnel supports of any kind along the middle 9' of the tunnel.

The tunnel was double-bagged at both ends, and the judge had carefully marked with pins the set points of both ends of the tunnel.  The ring crew was watchful, returning the ends to their marks every dog or two. But although the tunnel lip edges did begin to angle toward the long jump, as often happens, the real problem was the midsection of the tunnel, which did not remain in that simple C shape.

When the apex of the arc got drastically skewed toward the exit end, which in this case took only one fast dog, the angle of the exit completely bypassed a look at the A-frame and shot the dog directly at the long jump between the two side posts.  It's hard to imagine this from looking at the course map, and it must have been a shock to handlers who had walked a course which basically agreed with the map!  Many large dogs suffered an elimination at the long jump, and a few small dogs did as well.  The handlers simply had to be paying attention to the dogs that did not naturally run wide there.  A step or an arm to push the dog's line out a bit was an efficient and effective solution.  It simply could not be taken for granted.  Needless to say, no dogs were so much as glancing at the off-course A-frame!  It was never in play.

Now the good news: it was great to see the talent and the steerability of the dogs as they made sometimes heroic adjustments and nailed the correct entry of the #17 tunnel.  Very few dogs went to the wrong entrance due to the misguided line across the long jump.  The handlers, pulling hard for that left-side entry, then had to run hard to set the outbound line to the weaves at breakneck pace.  Some fantastic runs were earned here!

There were a few bobbles in the closing few obstacles, but most handlers were able to get ahead in the weaves and set the push for the #19 jump. All-in-all the course ran fast and fun, and the successful handlers pushed, managed, and ran-ran-ran the entire way.  That's the spirit of Steeplechase!


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