The Lefanta Line

My Lefanta Line 

It's Development And Legacy

John Geoghegan

I can’t say Setters and Pointers were in my blood, my earliest “doggy” moments were hunting with terriers after school. When I got married my in-laws were more into shooting and I developed an appreciation for their pointing Labrador! Soon I acquired a lab of Sandringham lines, which strangely enough didn't point naturally!! But it eventually developed the habit. However it was through my friendship with Eddie Ahern that I first saw English Setters work. He had a variety of animals including the bitch Stoneview Princess who I eventually bought and bred from. His friend Ned Fox was breeding his bitch Roaming Beauty to Dan Scannell’s Roughty Lad – I booked a pup and so Ballincolly Roamer arrived in the summer of 1980. I had the dog trained by Andy Hickey and he was trained and polished at 10 ½ months. He was made up in the sugar beet at Ferns aged 2 years and 3 months. My next acquisition came from a similar source – a pup by Ned Fox’s Glen Road (a full brother to Ballincolly Roamer) out of Stoneview Princessowned at the time by Eddie Ahern. I bought this bitch from Eddie and he game me the pup named Lad of Cappoquin, who shortly afterwards became my second Field Trial Champion. FTCh Ballincolly Roamer produced my 3rd FTCh Miss Katie and FTCh Lad of Cappoquin sired the 4th FTCh Cosmic Flight bred by Tony O’Connell out of My Only Girl, so you see from the early days I was trying to breed the best from the best available to me.
FTCh Ballincolly Roamer
I've got to say my first Trial was an educational experience and it helped to form my own approach to training and handling.  In my early years I would have to say that I basically let my dogs loose and enjoyed watching them go. This often cost me a Trial or two, but I was having a good time and that is what mattered then. After a while this approach cost me one too many and I had a serious chat with myself. I’m now a great believer in insisting in correctness during training. It helps ensure a higher level of success when the pressure’s on and it really matters. Allowing one’s standards to slip when training only allows a rot to set in with the dog and you’ll suffer at crucial moments.

Over the years I’ve been in the company of many different individuals and each has their own approach – many derive satisfaction from just having the opportunity to see the dogs stretch out and run. Will Sloan had a favourite saying, uttered with relish “Look at that dog go, boy!” which showed his appreciation for natural enthusiasm and drive in a dog. However it’s easy to get side-tracked from the main purpose of training, which is to have the dog work to its optimum level for you, by standing back and admiring it work for itself. I will say that frequently I did not enjoy training sessions. This might seem a strange statement to make when many of my training sessions took place in a setter heaven, the Stanhope moors of Co Durham. One run I recall, with Lefanta Pip (aged 14 months at the time) yielded 20 finds in about 15 minutes – how could I not enjoy moments such as that? Simple – I seek perfection when training, I’m forever critical of my own dogs, no matter how good, there’s usually some aspect which could be further enhanced. Take it from me, perfection and therefore ultimate satisfaction is rarely achieved. Incidentally Pip became a FTCh at 20 months.

Trips to Stanhope and its like are for what Nash termed the “Spit and Polish Time”. I do a lot of schooling in grass fields at home and am lucky enough to spend a few precious days each spring and summer working on the grouse of Stanhope thanks to the goodwill of people such as Head Keeper David Dickson. People may consider me lucky with birds in Trials, but if you analyse the situations I have had no more chances on birds than anyone else. However it is true to say that when my dogs have game opportunities the percentage of times they capitalised on them is high – and this is the difference. This doesn't happen by accident – it comes about through the long hours of training and drilling which has gone into the dog’s preparation at home and which lessens the margin for error when it really matters. The dogs I was aiming to produce are like the Formula 1 of the Trial world – they needed the sort of time and commitment typically devoted to highly focused athletes. The type of driver more used to a Morris Minor has difficulty adjusting to cope with their energy and mentality. To get the team ready for the Summer Campaign I was frequently on the hill at day-break and had several hours’ training done before going to work interfered. Then at tea-time it was out again until “light stopped play” for the evening. This was not an occasional day’s time-table, but typical of most days when Trials were imminent. My success, though considerable, was as a result of extremely hard graft.
I have set high standards for my dogs and they have consistently met them. From almost Day 1 of my involvement with English Setters, I have evolved my own routine for breeding, training and development. On the whole the dogs achieved F T Ch status by 2 ½ years and many retired from competition on achieving their title, to make room for the next generation, but I've tried very hard to retain their qualities before parting with them. FTCh Ballincolly Roamer, for example, was only bred to 2 bitches, but from these matings came several key animals who have formed the foundation for my future line, even to this day – Nina Proctor’s FTCh Mandy of Barrrowview, Neill Ryan’s Lord of the Ringsand my own FTCh Miss Katie. Lord of the Rings (Miss Katie’s brother) when mated to Stoneview Princess produced the winner of the 1989 Irish Championship FTCh Lefanta Cindy and her sister Carroll, who was mother of the amazing bitch FTCh The Queen. FTCh Miss Katie resulted from Roamer’s mating to Miss Minnie. FTCh Miss Katie was an extremely talented bitch who I would still count amongst my top 10. She was absolutely excellent in finding and handling game.
FTCh Miss Katie
In my approach to breeding I used these as foundation stock from which to breed for the future -FTCh Ballincolly RoamerGlen Road and Stoneview Princess were keystones. Sometimes introductions of outside blood worked and sometimes I had second thoughts. For Miss Katie’s first mating I used an English dog Wealdmoors Windward on John Nash’s recommendation. Although the litter produced Lefanta Abba, one of my Derby winners and my 5th FTCh Lefanta April, they didn't really conform to my vision for the Lefanta line and so I deliberately steered away from them. Of course, anyone who has had anything to do with English Setters in Ireland in the last 25 years will be aware of one dog’s huge individual contribution to the evolution of the current English Setter. The importation of Storeskars G’Snorre (Tiuhagen’s Keisser x Urskogen Fatima) was immensely successful and influential. John Nash, often portrayed as a purely “red man” was at heart a true dog man, interested in any good dog regardless of breed, and was therefore seriously keen on an early viewing of this new dog. The viewing took place at a Field Trial in Cork where Pat Wood from Scotland was judging. Nash had been in hospital and was really not fit to be out, but the Norwegian dog ran in the first brace and Nash returned to his recuperation bed. To say he was impressed was an understatement. In due course Nash arrived to view the first litter of pups from G’Snorre and on observing the raw young dogs run he declared, “The rest of us are f***** – not alone is he a smasher of a dog himself, just look at the quality he’s throwing!”

And so it was that the Norwegian dog, as he was invariably referred to, was used extensively and it’s rare to find a modern day English Setter without some line to him. As a stud dog he was great but as a performer in his own right he was true class. I ran him in the week of July Trials in 1989 and out of 5 Opens he won 3 and came 2nd in the other two. Then apart from the Championship that year, he was never campaigned again. In his first cast in that Championship the crowd walked up a bird behind where he was cast off and the judges fired him, I could never understand that decision. We have had dogs through the years that have won maybe 10 or 15 Open Stakes and that’s a great record, but it needs to be remembered that this may be over a career spanning 6 or 7 years. I've often been quizzed on what I think G’Snorre’s tally might have reached if he had enjoyed a similarly prolonged career. There’s no use in speculating, for it’s something we’ll never know, but he certainly had a style and class all of his own and he could have gone on much, much longer. FTCh The Blue Maestro, however, did manage to get into double figures in a very short time – 13 Trial wins in just 6 months!

In training alongside G’Snorre was FTCh Lefanta Cindy, one of my all time favourites. Pound for pound she was the best I ever had, I’d say. She could do it all – grouse, pheasant, snipe, woodcock and was also an excellent retriever into the bargain. She won the Irish Championship in 1989. I’m reminded of her when I see Gerald Devine’s current little blue pocket-rocket – Lefanta Kira – as both were small bitches with unbelievable heart. After Cindy’s title (achieved at 20 months) came another legend in the breed – FTCh The Blue Maestro (FTCh Tyrone Banner x Cranna Lass). All I need to say is that his name was well chosen. He really was something extra special. I was invited to judge in Scotland in the Spring of 1991 on the wide, flat moors of Sutherland – perfect dogging country. Due to Kennel Club Rules, my Irish dogs, though FTChs were not deemed to be qualified for open Stakes and so I could only run FTCh The Maestro in 2 Novice Stakes. The terrain really suited him. He was able to give a display of all the best qualities I aimed to have in my dogs – his quartering was flawless, flat and very wide and he took his game opportunities like the star he was, winning both Stakes. His speed and style were the talk of the circuit – it was an exceptional standard for any dog to reach, but what made it more notable and eye-catching for the spectators and other competitors was that he really did not fit the concept of English Setters common in England and Scotland. Even yet, a lady whose opinion I really value, and whose knowledge and experience of dogs is unsurpassed, Mrs Eppie Buist (now in her 95th year and with as keen an interest and as critical an eye as ever) will write to me occasionally asking when I’m going to return with another treat such as The Maestro for her to see. On this trip I met John Woodburn for the first time. He wrote of this occasion: 

From a letter in  THE SHOOTING NEWS:

          “….Two days were spent training dogs along with John (Geoghegan), and me getting the added bonus of seeing him bring puppies out, then novice dogs and open stake dogs to follow, all superb looking English setters, fit to grace a show ring in looks and confirmation, and able to gallop, pups working out game in their own way, but certainly showing a zest for work, novice dogs going like the clappers, holding and working out game free-moving – a pleasure to see.I’m sure the training methods account for making these dogs so free moving on the bird production.My next was a preview of what the other people were to see over the next two days.A truly magnificent animal in every way, a field Trial champion, showing his ability and fitness to run in any company at the highest level.  My opinion of this dog was to be confirmed over the next two days, by the judges for these stakes, alas novice stakes as the powers that be insist that dogs must qualify under English KC rules.  This dog was fit to go home an International FT Champion was the general consensus of opinion.
FTCh The Blue Maestro
The dog Irish FTCh The Blue Maestro, this dog, all Irish bred, could be the saviour of English setters this side of the water, is my conviction.A lot has been said of John’s Norwegian import, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this dog, but I don’t think he could sway me from the Maestro.  I look forward to a puppy.”"
Well he subsequently did get a pup or two but more of that later.
The Maestro produced FTCh Knocksmall Blue Boy (bred by Tony O’Connell out of his bitch Clogheen Susie) who I feel contributed a great deal to the breed. He suffered under the towering reputation of his father, but very much justifies his own place in the English Setter Hall of fame. When the Blue Boy was bred to The Queen she produced FTChs Lefanta Pip and Page and Int.FTCh Patsy and when bred to Dusky’s Pride she produced Lefanta Quiva and Lefanta Queen. It’s a measure of the importance of these 3 dogs that the 1994 English Setter Breed Stake in August consisted of 20 dogs all of whom were the offspring of one or other of the three.

Between father and son I made up FTCh The Queen, a bitch bred from Cindy’s sister Carroll’s mating with G’Snorre. Again her name is apt, for despite her excellent qualities as a performer in her own right, it is as a brood bitch that she is truly queen of the heap. She produced 7 Champions from several matings. The famous Int.FTCh Lefanta Patsy who I trained and won puppy stakes with moved onto Bill Connolly and between us she gained her title. Patsy won 6 Open Stakes on the trot and was 2nd in the seventh. When I began to train her, on her first outing to the hill at about 14 months she went missing and it was dark before she came back. After achieving her Irish title, Bill then decided to see if we could make her an International Champion. John Woodburn was invited to handle her for us in England where she dominated the circuit, winning 8 Open stakes having already accounted for 7 in Ireland. She topped it off with the English Champion Stake in 1998 coming second in the Irish Championship for good measure. Patsy and I had frequent reunions during this period for refresher courses and I felt a great pride in her achievements – a culmination of years of successful breeding. I felt very satisfied in being able to prepare a bitch of her speed and style and leave her ready for another handler to merely let her off the lead and win with at the very highest level.

She was one of The Queen’s famous P litter, produced from her mating to FTCh Knocksmall Blue Boy. The dogs were easy to train, natural on game and stayed trained when the hard work was done. I took Pip and Page to their Irish titles, but it was a litter sister Penny, whom I had given to John Woodburn, who I felt was potentially the greatest of the lot. 

A later litter from The Queen when mated to FTCh Lefanta Specky produced Tricolour and Tyson who both achieved their titles. Tricolour won the Derby stake and became a Champion at the tender age of 20 months. I then bred The Queen to her father FTCh Storeskar G’Snorre and produced Bill Connolly’s FTCh Lefanta C Rommell, a very strong willed dog who in turn also produced some good pups such as Gerald Devine’s Int.FTCh Gardenfield Warrior (FTCh Lefanta C Rommell x Lefanta Queenwho carries the stamp of his father in style and character. 

FTCh Lefanta Cranna was the last of The Queen’s titled offspring, getting her career off to a good start with a 2nd in the 1997 Derby Stake. I took Cranna to Stanhope when she was about 6 months and to see her go and point game you would have thought she was a trained dog. Her ground work and her game finding were something special – it was only when she produced her birds and chased them that you realised the truth…
FTCh The Mighty Viking born in 1990 (FTCh Storeskars G’Snorre x Cranna Lass) won the Puppy Derby and his brother FTCh The Dark Viking went to France where he sired Field Trial winners. Both gained their titles. The Mighty Viking was some dog. He was very fast over the ground, took lovely straight lines, ran very wide and was excellent on all game – he was also one of the easiest dogs I ever trained. When I got him a few people told me that he could not be trained. Oh! I do like a challenge – he became a FTCh at 20 months – so much for untrainable!! On the other had, despite making him up, The Dark Viking and I never got on. Eamon Keogh had their sister FTCh Texas Tomboy – a great bitch.

I enjoyed making up FTCh Lefanta Heidi as she came from truly great parents – FTCh The Blue Maestro and FTCh Lefanta CindyHeidi had a rough start to life as she broke a leg at the age of one, but recovered to win 4 Open Stakes in a typically (for my dogs) short career. Simultaneously I was working with litter brothers FTCh Locgorman Rings and FTCh Locgorman Albin (FTCh The Blue Maestro x Lefanta Elan) with Heidi and The Queen they recorded a very successful 1994 season – all achieving their titles in the space of one week. Albin came close in the 1994 Irish Championship taking the runner-up spot to Paddy Collins’ PD FTCh Doohatty Spruce. Another dog making an appearance during this period was FTCh Lefanta Specky (FTCh The Blue Maestro x Conlaun Music) – a dog of high quality who was a bit neglected in his puppy year due to having to share my attention with quite a number of other very good dogs. He still managed to win an Open Stake as an unqualified youngster. Alongside Specky the “P” litter were dominant before the “T”s – Tyson and Tricolour flew the flag.  At the same time as these two I had a really class dog – Lefanta Snorre.      
FTCh Lefanta Snorre (FTCh Storeskars G’Snorre Kassy) Kassy was a daughter of Our Lassie. Lassie was a litter sister to The Queen. Kassy was by the Maestro so it was no surprise that Snorre was a class act when you analyse his pedigree.

Then we get to FTCh Knocksmall Moose (Storeskars G’Snorre x Lefanta Minnie). Another one of my Puppy Derby winners, she came 2nd in the 2000 Irish Championship with FTCh Lefanta Eva filling the fourth spot. Moose was Irish Kennel Club Dog of the Year in 1999. Moose’s dam line goes straight back to my first FTCh Ballincolly Roamer. Her mother Minnie was a lovely puppy and at about 6 months Tony O’Connell fell in love with her and I gave her to him. Tony had great fun with her and won quite a bit with her but she never quite got the FTCh title which she deserved. She came in season every 6 months and it was not possible to get her right for Trials. However she left her mark on the breed with her daughter Moose. Moose had it all – easy to train and handle, eye-catching over the ground and always excellent on game …… I could happily talk about her all day and all night. 
FTCh Knocksmall Moose
Following on was FTCh Lefanta Cranna, who I've already mentioned, before we come to the last of my home-bred Champions – FTCh Lefanta Ezar and FTCh Lefanta Eva, litter mates produced from FTCh Lefanta Page’s first mating to FTCh Lefanta Snorre. Another brother Lefanta Engel passed between a few handlers and was a FT winner, but didn't make his title. Ezar was a very good dog and he got his title very easily, you could see that he had all the qualities you would expect given the pedigree he boasted. His sister Eva was equally good – she is a very well made bitch. I think she will breed well. (Page when mated to Lefanta Gift went on to produce Int. FTCh Lefanta Kira currently attracting attention in England and Ireland for her liveliness, speed and extensive ground coverage with Gerald Devine).

And last on the list is FTCh Storeskars II Odin (Faun x Nicolli) – imported from the same source as Storeskars G’Snorre 12 years earlier. He didn't make such an immediate impact as his more celebrated relation, but then he came to an English Setter scene in Ireland vastly different from the one to which G’Snorre had arrived. Due to dogs of the calibre of G’SnorreThe Blue Maestro and Knocksmall Blue Boy, English setters had evolved beyond recognition in 20 years. Odin was a different character to G’Snorre – I feel he brought qualities which were complimentary to those brought by Snorre. He was a powerful, wide-ranging dog and acquired his title by the age of three. Whilst G’Snorre was used extensively at stud, Odin was not and though some of Odin’s blood remains there are far fewer dogs carrying Odin’s blood than G’Snorre’s and the importance of its influence remains to be seen – I think it should make a valuable contribution to the further development of our breed in Ireland. 

And that completes the story, at least to the present day. Each of the aforementioned I recall with pleasure. If I had to choose the really outstanding, Lefanta CindyStoreskars G’SnorreThe Mighty Viking, The Blue Maestro, The Queen, Miss Katie, Ballincolly Roamer Knocksmall Moose and Lefanta Pip would definitely figure amongst the all-time greats. If I was challenged to a head-to-head with the best of today’s dogs I’d definitely bring Cindy and The Maestro out if the main aim was shooting, but to compete on a nice open running mountain I think I couldn’t possibly bypass Storeskars G’Snorre. All my dogs had their own particular strengths and could put up a serious challenge to all-comers but I’d fear no opposition if I had these three in my trailer. 

I particularly enjoy mountain trials as they provide a real test of a dog’s heart, his speed and stamina, especially in Ireland where they really have to go out and look for game. Although all the dogs were more than competent on other ground and game, to really compete at the highest level on grouse on the mountain is what I’ve always striven to produce dogs for. The Derby Stake carries its own excitement, as it’s where you get the first glimpse of the stars of the future and you can begin to assess the animals which will challenge your own further down the line. I’m really proud to have had the success in it that I’ve had with quite a few wins over the years. 

Almost all the dogs I've brought to Trials here have reached their title and believe me, that is not down to luck. Apart from the hard work which goes into their training, I've bred quite a number of pups – you need to in order to be able to select the very best, even when you've used the best parents available from lines you know and understand. Then young dogs are carefully watched to spot the stars – so much goes into producing a Trial dog that you have to believe totally in its ability – if there are any doubts as to whether it will “make it” then its better to discard it as one of the trainees and find one that does set the pulses racing. Really it’s a bit like the TV programme “The X-Factor” where the judges are looking for the star quality that they can develop into something really special – that’s what I've always needed to see too – if my heart wasn't really in a pup then it wasn't going anywhere. When I last counted (back in 2000) I reckoned 44 Field Trial Champions had come direct from my kennels. 

It’s always pleasing to see one of my dogs or their progeny succeed with my friends. Red Mills’ Bill Connolly has run FTCh Lefanta QuivaFTCh Lefanta C RommellFTCh Lady of Thor and of course the incomparable Patsy with great success. My long-time friend and accomplice on many English Setter plans and trips, Tony O’Connell has had some great dogs – he trained and handled Lefanta Beauty, Lefanta Minnie and his outstanding bitch FTCh Conlaun Tina. Tinawas known at Trials as The Missile. She was a daugher of Storeskars G’Snorre. Tony was also instrumental in much useful breeding (Just ask yourself where did Knocksmall Blue Boy, Cosmic Flight or Knocksmall Moose come from after all?) Gerald Devine in Donegal carries on today with dogs which are very much products of the Lefanta legacy. 

I would also like to mention my wife and family and thank them for all their assistance and support over the years and making it easy for me to get away to Trials and for training. There were always pups and brood bitches at home to be looked after and without their help I could not have done it and would not have achieved a fraction of what I’m now reminiscing about. 

Even though my attention in canine matters has diverted into another forum at the moment – the world of greyhounds, I look back on my time in English Setters with fondness and satisfaction. It was good to trace the path of the breed’s evolution during the lifetime of the Breed Club – the English Setter Club of Ireland at the time of their Silver Anniversary in 2005 and to celebrate the successes we've achieved. Even though I’m not often at Trials currently, I like to keep tabs on who’s doing what with which dogs and the thought of a trip to Scotland or Stanhope still has the power to excite – so you never know, if I hear of that special pup or the right opportunity presents itself, maybe Field Trial Champion number 28 isn't really beyond the Realms of Possibility. 
FTCh The Queen

John Geoghegan

The English Setter Club of Ireland Anniversary Magazine 


1 comment:

  1. A beautiful piece of history and hopefully more to come, keep it up.