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History of the US Open & Victoire Nationale

adapted from the 35th Anniversary article by Judy Webb and the 50th Anniversary article by David A. Fletcher

In 1963, sixty regional clubs in the American Brittany Club sponsored more than 100 field trials. These were all foot handled events, primarily single course (backcourse and birdfield), 30-minute heats using liberated birds. A great many performances in the hour-long National Championship stake were disappointing, with many dogs demonstrating a distinct lack of stamina for the hour, and a general deficiency of athletic ability. Few were able to complete the hour with endurance and style.

In order to address these issues, noted trainer Delmar Smith envisioned and led an effort to establish a Championship stake for Brittanys that would recognize and promote the superior dogs. The founding members envisioned a stake that would gain nationwide recognition, and have the winners used in breeding programs to help improve the shortcomings of the breed. The test would emphasize athleticism, intensity and proper manners on birds, and the stamina and determination to finish the hour hunting strongly.

To realize these objectives, they chose to emulate the American Field’s National Free-For-All Championship. The rules would call for a one-hour qualifying series followed by a one-hour final series. Pointing game in the first series and some slight lapses may be overlooked if the overall performance of a dog warrants another look. And a first for the breed, this stake would be horseback handled.

Delmar Smith met with AKC officials and made his pitch for a two-series stake with horseback handling. But aside from Henry Holleyoak, no one present had ever been to a pointing dog field trial or knew anything about them. Smith's proposal was turned down, and so he turned to the American Field. Editor William F. Brown was entirely receptive to the proposal, and the Championship was granted. The United States Open Brittany Championship has been strictly an American Field event ever since.

When the first series is completed, a suggested number of eight or more dogs are “called back” for the championship series. The judges pair the dogs for the second series and the slate is wiped clean. No dog may be called back to run in the finals on the same day as his original effort. A second series contender must be braced with a new bracemate and run on a different course.

The judges have great latitude in picking the best entry. After the second series, if no dog has shown the performance sought, the judges can call for additional dogs from the first series and/or re-run dogs from the finals. No dog is eliminated from the stake until the judges have found the best and a winner named.

These principles place extreme pressure upon those chosen to judge, but also allow them freedom to select a premier winner. If the judges do not see a performance worthy of the honor “Champion”, they can award first, second and third.

There have been several multiple winners of the Championship, with Jacolet’s Wandering Star being the only three time winner (1974, 1978, 1979). Way-Kan Jill, Minnehaha’s Tammy, Tall Oaks Bandolero, A Bunch Of Butch, Shambo’s Dark Shadow, and Tejas Iron Mike each claimed two titles. Shambo’s Dark Shadow also claims the most total placements, being twice Champion and twice Runner-Up.

Of 45 individual US Open Champions from 1963-2016, eleven have been females. Jim John is the leader among handlers with thirteen placements, followed by Marc Appleton, Rick Smith and Ed Tillson with seven each. Eight amateurs have handled their dogs to the championship title to date: Dr. C. T. Young, Dr. Tim Poling, Jake Schroder, Jack Murphy, Ed Tillson, Terry Maxwell, and Dave Lincoln, and Terry Gowin. Charles (Bernie) Crain is the only owner to have claimed three different US Open Champions, each ten years apart: Jim de Bob's Sparks A Dan D in 1996, Shambo's Dark Shadow in 2006, and Tequila Scorcher (a grandson of Shadow) in 2016.

As the years have passed, the US Open has proven to be everything that its founders hoped for. Many of the winners have been used extensively by Brittany breeders, and gone on to produce future generations of US Open as well as ABC National Champions. Through 2018, 26 US Open winners have produced get and grand-get which won a total of 51 US Open Champion and Runner-Up titles. The 2004 winner, Make My Day Dude, was not only the product of two US Open Champions, but he is also the only fourth-generation winner of this stake. Shadow Attack, the winner of the 50th Anniversary stake in 2012, boasts a pedigree with US Open winners in every generation going all the way back to the original winner, Way-Kan Jill.

The companion Victoire Nationale Derby was established in 1974 “to glorify the Derby prospect most likely to theoretically win the US Open Brittany Championship.” It is to this day the only one-hour Derby stake for Brittanys.

In 2005 the Victoire Nationale was recognized as an American Field Championship stake, standing on its own merits. This renewal revealed the reason for the longevity and interest in this stake as proving grounds. Many of the past entrants have gone on to become National Champions and multiple hour winners, and/or been producers of the same, clearly demonstrating the value of this stake to the Brittany breed.

With the separation of AKC and American Field registries and events in 2021, the US Open had to become an AKC club and 2023 was the first year of running under AKC rules. The winner of the championship now receives an AKC RFC (Region Field Champion) title. The Derby stakes remains a 1-hour event but under AKC rules there is no longer a championship title associated with the Derby stake.