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Result: National Free-for-All Championship

Location: Greensboro, Alabama

Post Date: Jan 11, 2022

Submitted By: Ruthann Epp


Winners' Circle. In foreground, Hailey Moreland poses Woodville's Yukon Cornelius with Jerry Raynor. Standing, from left: Bill Mason, judge; Alex Rickert, owner Carl Owens, handler Mark McLean, and Burke Hendrix, judge, and Ruthann Epp.

GREENSBORO, ALA. -- The 2021 National Free-for-All Champion is Woodville's Yukon Cornelius, four-year-old tri-colored setter male handled by Mark McLean and owned by Carl Owens of Charleston, S. C.

According to an article by Ben W. Pugsley in the 1963 Christmas Edition of The American Field, four setters had won the National Free-for-All since its inaugural running in 1916. Candy Kid was the first, winning in 1918 on the Bell Estate in Lowndes County, Ala., handled by Ches Harris. Jay R's Boy, handled by Ed Farrior, won in 1919 and 1920, and Shore's Ben, handled by John W. Martin, won in 1921.

If my research is not remiss, no setter has won since 1921, which makes Woodville's Yukon Cornelius the fifth setter in 10r years to win this endurance stake that requires an extreme race while showing a true bird dog.

Cornelius exhibited true stamina and never lost his style or speed in the hour and a half callback even after having run in the qualifier earlier the same day. He ran the last brace of the finals turned loose in Black Bottom Pasture at three in the afternoon with bracemate Marques Armed Robber (Henry). His owner, Carl Owens, was in the gallery.

Cornelius rimmed Black Bottom Pasture before crossing Germain Creek. Both dogs quickly disappeared into the big open fescue field and as the gallery entered the field, the two dogs were going out the far end to the left, but the course was turning to the right. The handlers got both dogs back at 11. After emerging from the Wild Woods chute, Cornelius was near the top of the hill hunting the edge of a feed strip in high speed. The dogs popped out from the left of VIP pond and then disappeared over the hill above Show Bottom. All in the gallery were waiting with anticipation for the call of point from the big tree near the graveled road that leads to the water tower. Sure enough, it happened at 30 minutes when both handlers called point. Armed Robber stood atop of the hill on the opposite side in the feed strip and Yukon Cornelius was pointing along the lower end of the feed strip out of sight from each other. Both handlers flushed in their respective locations and birds were in front of both dogs. The two shots echoed in the heavy air.

They then crossed the gravel and both dogs took the left edge. Not much could be seen but they evidently took Gum Springs Bottom because as the gallery neared the road, the dogs popped out on the left. Shortly after, at 47, a raised hat was seen just above the curve of the hill. Everyone cantered to the bottom of the field below the hay barn. There was Yukon Cornelius, statuesquely standing in the shadows of a big oak tree with a focused stare and straight-up feathered tail. His bracemate was backing. McLean stepped in front of the setter and a bevy of quail boiled out through the briars and branches and the crack of a shot quickly followed. Henry ended his bid as we neared headquarters.

The last 42 minutes were continuous powerful casts. Haily Moreland was riding in the gallery providing extra "horse power" for scout Jerry Raynor to swap out as needed. Cornelius made it through what is called the dove field, then made some big swings through Black Cow pasture. The judges stopped above the pond for at least five minutes as handler and scout were scouring the hedgerows and clusters of trees. Then Cornelius was spotted in front along the far fenceline down toward the head of Turkey Lake. Here it was in December and people were all in shirt sleeves and horses, lathered but neither the heat nor humidity seemed to affect Cornelius. He checked out an area that is frequently home to a covey but none there; he then took in the last remaining fields to the extreme and as the judges topped the hill above the Warden's Pond, they caught a glimpse of the tri-color setter before disappearing over the hill thru the fence line and called "Pick 'em up!"

The stylish handsome setter joined the Owens family as an eight-week-old puppy gifted to Ellington, Carl and Ashley's daughter who was four years old at the time. Ellington thought the pup looked like the character Yukon Cornelius in the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie, hence the name and then for his callname, Rudy.

Carl decided to run Rudy as a puppy in a Derby stake and won first. Rudy kept winning and won the South Carolina Derby of the Year as a puppy. Ike Todd took him on as a pupil for his Derby year and successfully won with Rudy as well. Woodville's Yukon Cornelius was invited, ran, and was called back in the 2019 American Derby Invitational.

He won the Herman Smith English Setter All-Age Derby Award in 2019 and then the John S. O'Neall, Sr. English Setter Open All-Age Award for 2020 and 2021.

Robin Gates ran him a short while and then Rudy went to Mark McLean. They have made a good match. His all-age wins include the Hobart Ames, runner-up North Carolina Open All-Age Championship, West Tennessee, and this fall, a second place at the Sunshine, and now the Free-for-All Championship which qualifies him to run in the National at Grand Junction.

Judges for this year's renewal were Bill Mason of Moundville, Ala., a longtime field trialer and bird hunter who has judged many championships and has been involved in all aspects of the field trial game. He managed the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area since its inception.

Burke Hendrix, a successful businessman from Hernando, Miss., like Bill Mason is a true proponent of bird dog field trials. He has been instrumental in hosting numerous historic trials in Mississippi. It was an honor to have such qualified men, who have ridden many a mile in the saddle as judges, handlers, and scouts to be the ones rendering judgment.

Those called back for final series, in addition to the winner, were Touch's Malcom Story, handled by Mark McLean and owned by Alex and Brianna Rickert of Bozeman, Mont.; Marques Armed Robber handled by Robert (Lefty) Henry, owned by John Ivester of Huntersville, N. C.; and Coldwater Thunder, the reigning National Champion and only female in the draw, handled by Steve Hurdle and owned by Doug Arthur of Eades, Tenn., Billy Blackwell and Rachel and David Russell of Como, Miss.

On the final morning of the qualifying runs, because of some scratches and extenuating circumstances due to the weather, there was a discussion of the possibility that dogs could run in the qualifier and be called back on the same day. The judges were prepared to spread things out over another day or two, if necessary; but the handlers and owners voiced their confidence that their dogs were in shape and said, "Let's do it." Up until 2011, the finals were three hours of running, so nothing unreasonable with this.

Several field trialers have expressed dismay that it is not still three hours. Only time will tell if that resumes returns.

Looming weather conditions had everyone concerned and rightly so since that was the evening of the deadly tornados that hit Kentucky. Temperatures rose and in combination with the high humidity, the hour-and-a-half finals tested the endurance of both dogs and horses. The "heart" that the canine athletes showed was touching--they pressed forward for the love of the run and hunt but also as loyalty to their handlers, by giving their all despite the conditions.

Three of the four dogs called back finished the ninety minutes, two of them having run earlier the same day.

The first brace of the finals started early afternoon taking a break only long enough for a horse change. Touch's Malcolm Story (McLean) and Cold Water Thunder (Hurdle) were unsnapped from the bridle rein at the red barn at 1:03 p.m. on a blustery afternoon. Owner Alex Rickert was riding for Malcolm. Coldwater Thunder had run earlier in the day in the qualifying series. The two dogs disappeared over the first hill. Thunder showed coming back across the front. At 10 owner Rickert saw a hat raised in the distance so some in the gallery took the long fast ride. The scout had left the dog to come call point. When we all arrived, no dog. The scout said, "Well, he is gone or I'm in the wrong place." Not having been on these grounds before, scout Jerry Raynor was a bit directionally challenged but he was a good sport and hope he will be back.

Thunder went through the gap into Black Cow Pasture and stayed straight going over the hill to the head of Turkey Lake and Malcolm took the right line. At 17 minutes Thunder was spotted making a big cast across the hill on the other side of the lake. At 28 Hurdle called point in Black Bottom Pasture. The white and liver female had perfect manners as the birds were flushed. Both dogs were strong taking the right edge of Black Cow Pasture. Thunder veered right and Malcolm went up the cedar line. Point was called at 48 for Malcolm on top of the hill with all in order. Coldwater Thunder had point called for her at 52 not far from the lake edge. Hurdle stepped in front of her, and a woodcock popped out and he fired. Both dogs took in the rest of Black Cow pasture. Malcolm made an attractive cast taking the right edge and then across the distant front fenceline. Thunder carved the edge of Little Prairie Pasture. Both were running straight into a strong wind.

At one hour and 15 point was called for Malcolm along the red barn line, but it was a barren stand. Then Hurdle called point at an hour and twenty along the dove field feed strip for find No. 3. Cold Water Thunder was proving her heart was in it. She finished out the front.


Forty-five-minute qualifying heats started 23 minutes late due to fog delay. Oceola Rebel Chief (Hurdle) took the left edge and Touch's Malcolm Story (McLean) went straight up the hill from the breakaway. Malcolm was pointed out going across the hillside across Turkey Lake, then the next sighting was at 31 minutes when point was called down the line along Black Bottom Pasture for Malcolm. As McLean pushed through the briars out came the birds and a shot was fired. Both dogs had a big race and finished strong.

Marques Armed Robber (Henry) and Erin's Outlawed (Hurdle) started across the road. Armed Robber made a big cast around the right side of the first pond and then showed up coming across the dam ahead. At 35 minutes Henry called point along the downed fence after leaving the powerline; birds blew out of the ditch as he stepped in front of his dog. Outlawed was picked up and Armed Robber finished strong across the road.

Touch's Breakaway Fred (McLean) and Late Hit (Shenker) started at what is called the parking lot. They disappeared over the hill and were next seen in Taylor Field, the big green field that has corners that can draw dogs to unknown places; each handler has his own strategy for maneuvering. At 35 McLean called point at the "big tree" covey. It was a fight for him to get into the briars to flush. Birds flew in all directions with all in order. Late Hit was picked up after crossing the gravel and Fred lost his focus.

Sandwood Creek (Raynor) and Southern Nation (Henry) started after lunch. Southern Nation had said scribe, as owner watched his performance. Creek's race didn't have the reach, and Nation's was extreme making a big cast on the side of the hill across Turkey Lake. Raynor called point at 22 but produced no birds and then at 38 minutes after a long relocation, birds finally lifted to garner a find. Southern Nation showed up at the wrong time in an awkward circumstance and was charged with not backing.

Touch's Folsom Blues (McLean) and Erin's Tie Breaker (Hurdle) both made big casts and never let up. At 26 Blues was standing at the end of the chute in the woods and Tie Breaker was backing for a pretty picture and the sound of gunfire. At 38 a distant call of point was heard for Tie Breaker. Riders raced to get there but point was called off. The two dogs finished strong across the road.

Game Ice (Raynor) and Dragonfly (Hughes) were away at 2:58 p.m. Rhonda Hughes was in the gallery giving her support. Within 5 minutes, two hats were raised along the cedar line. Most of the gallery cantered there. Judge Mason dismounted and assumed an umpire stance to look under the low cedar branches for flight of birds. All was in order and both handlers shot. Five minutes later point was called for Dragonfly again with Ice backing. No birds were flushed. Both dogs made it through the Wild Woods and made some big swings in New Ground. Dragonfly was standing in the brush at the base of VIP pond where it is common to find birds, but none was flushed to end the brace.

Coldwater Thunder (Hurdle) and Touch's Gallatin Fire (McLean) got a late start because of a fog delay. Fire's owner, Alex Rickert, was riding for his team. At 8 minutes a hat was raised above Warden's Pond for the McLean team with all in order. At fifteen, two calls of point were heard. When the gallery came through the gap, both dogs were standing on the edge of the feed strip, neither real intent. Both handlers walked in front of the dogs, birds flew, and both shot. At 27 McLean called point again for Gallatin Fire with Thunder backing and all in order, and at 32 minutes another divided find along the line of Black Cow Pasture and Black Bottom Pasture. Both dogs took Taylor Field and then finished well.

Dakota Nation (Hurdle) and Touch's Whitey Ford (McLean) were unleashed in the big open field across the road. Dakota Nation had owner, Ted Roach riding for him. At 7 Hurdle called point just up the line from the first ditch crossing but no birds were seen. Dakota Nation finished the 45 minutes but Whitey Ford was picked up early.

The last brace of the qualifying was Woodville's Yukon Cornelius (McLean) which ran as a bye, with owner Carl Owens in the gallery. He took the edge from the breakaway and hunted down the cedar line and then someone in the gallery pointed him out going over the far hill above Black Cow Pond. He was next seen in Taylor Field and etched the entire field to perfection. When the gallery exited Wild Woods, the setter was almost to the top of New Ground hunting a feed strip. He disappeared over the hill above VIP pond. Riding toward the gravel road, McLean raised his hat. The tri-color setter was standing in the edge of briars near the "big tree." All was in order, and he finished strong.

Greensboro, Ala., December 8

Judges: Burke Hendrix and Bill Mason


[Forty-Five-Minute Qualifying Heats; One and One Half Hour Finals] ---

19 Pointers and 1 Setter

Winner--WOODVILLE'S YUKON CORNELIUS, 1673091, setter male, by Caladen's Davinci--A Tarheel Miss Bo. Carl Owens, owner; Mark Mclean, handler.

Deserved Acknowlegements

The United States Open and the National Free-for-All ran back-to-back so it was an opportunity for owners to watch their dogs run two and possibly three heats on one trip. At least six owners hailing from Montana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama were here for one or the other or both trials.

The grounds on the Forever Wild Field Trial Area are big open fields with edges made by old fencelines. It is thrilling to ride a horse while watching a dog take those edges and then have it culminate with a stylish find in a feed strip. Adding to the total experience is the camaraderie within the gallery--catching up on daily lives, young dogs, and wins, while eagles soar above and ducks and geese come and go.

The National Field Trial Club is appreciative of the State of Alabama Lands Division, that manages, for the sport of field trials, this Forever Wild property and appreciative of the Alabama Conservation and Wildlife Department and Commissioner Blankenship's oversight. The dedication of these two agencies in keeping these grounds groomed and facilities available for field trials allows this multi-generational and historic sport to be viable in our area and makes it possible for these longtime championships -- the National Free-for-All and the National Derby that runs in January to continue in Alabama.

The field trial community is forever grateful to Bill Mason, who retired the end of December after thirteen years of managing these grounds for our enjoyment and benefit. We had the privilege of meeting Brae Buckner, Bill's replacement, and look forward to working with her in the years to come.

A thank you is to the 20th Century Fund, an arm of the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of American that has provided grant money for the last six or seven years to this venue through amateur field trial clubs that run on these grounds. The monies assist with the purchase of seed and fertilizer for the feed strips.

Thanks to Carol Gatlin of Dawson, Ga., who served delicious meals for the group. It was nice to come into the White House and be greeted by someone in the kitchen wanting to know how the day was going. She was much appreciated as was Henrietta Mason and her desserts.

John Henry Kitchens is another who deserves much thanks. He is the ultimate dog wagon driver. Being a retired air traffic controller and a military helicopter pilot serving in Vietnam, he can definitely deal with dog wagon logistics.

Thanks to all the others that marshalled, helped with barn duties and whatever came up. And lastly thanks to the owners, handlers, and scouts of these dogs!