On St. Patrick’s Day, between 30 and 40 foot-pack enthusiasts gathered at the Strathalbyn Farms Club gazebo in Weldon Spring, Mo., for the 38th annual running of the Gumbo Flats Gold Cup Stake.
The event, hosted by the Three Creek Bassets (Mo.), started on Friday evening with a dinner for out-of-towners at a nearby restaurant.
On Saturday morning, the competing masters from My Half Beagles (Mo.), Sandanona Beagles (N.Y.), Okaw Valley Bassets (Ill.) and Three Creek Bassets gathered to number the hounds at Leslie and Don Granger’s My Half Farm near New Melle, Mo.
The wind was brisk with a mostly overcast sky, but thankfully, the rain held off. After a long, cold draw, the hounds did open and try, but they were not able to run a good rabbit during the morning. Lunch was excellent and followed by an uneventful number of the hounds.
With the hounds safely back in kennels, the guests gathered at Strathalbyn for the gala dinner, dance, calcutta and silent auction. Bidding was animated and brought good, if modest, amounts for both beagles and bassets. Dinner was especially delicious with beef tenderloin and wild mushroom ragout made with mushrooms found by Three Creek members while hunting. Several diners found silver coins in their colcannon, a promising return on their calcutta investments! After dinner, dancing, though lively, finished early in anticipation of a big day ahead.
Sunday morning found about 30 gathered at Strathalbyn Farms under threatening skies with puffs of stinging snow, which the weatherman called a “frozen mix.” The prediction was for a possible 1-3 inches of snow, which posed a definite discouragement to the group.
Laura Balding, MBH of Three Creek Bassets, addressed the assemblage and introduced the outriders and other staff. The outriders, Lei Ruckle, Jt.-MBH of Three Creek Bassets, and Richard Finke, MFH of Shawnee Foxhounds, were already moving in the direction of the draw. The group was lucky to have an experienced number of whippers-in as well as a few new people carrying whips. These included Jack Cooley from Kansas, Ron Ausman, MBH Okaw Valley Bassets, Leslie Granger, MB of My Half Beagles, Angelia Gosney, Betsy Johnson, Cole Miles, Anton Stever and Joyce Slatton.
This year our huntsman of the past 10 years, Eleanor Hartwell, huntsman from Bridlespur, was relieved by Ken George, who is Moingona’s professional huntsman. Hartwell, intimately familiar with the Strathalbyn countryside and nearby topography, worked alongside him.
The judges, Tommy Jackson, MFH from Kansas, and Ursula Walsh, MBH from North Carolina, both with notepaper and pencils in hand, and armed with rain gear, moved off with George and Hartwell and the 8 1/2 couple of bassets and beagles. The hounds seemed to be adjusting well to their newly introduced huntsmen as the pack started off to the first cast in the usually very rabbitty dump at the back of the club grounds. Field master Ted Atwood positioned his charges where they could see the action, but was already working hard to get the attention of the gallery.
After some long minutes a beagle opened, then a few basset voices joined before the rest of the pack. Two or three bewildered hounds still hanging back harked in, and the race was on. Regular huntsmen of the entered hounds retreated to their cars or back into the gallery where they could follow the action and not necessarily be noticed by their own hounds. This first burst was short lived. Hounds made a loss after a run northwest between the Whitmoor woods and the cesspool in the manure pile field, about 200 yards along, between the Skeet Range and the neighbor’s wheat crop. The weather was holding, but the scenting conditions seemed challenging. Another quiet interval stretched before another burst.
This time the voices disappeared in a suspiciously deery direction. The outriders, having ridden out ahead to move the deer from our paths, must have missed a few lurking in the gullies. Heading off the riot proved to be a challenge as the pack funneled through a broad and raggedly wooded 20 acres or so that opened in the creek bed valley running north and south, near the gate to Strathalbyn, a favorite route of deer racing to the river and the Katy Trail. Thankfully, Finke, positioned on the driveway, turned the deer, and the pack was rescued. At this point there was a decision to move on up to the top of the hill to work the fields and brush around Wheatfield Cottage, another promising rabbit environment.
It was here the judges made significant observations. They witnessed another deer temptation, condemning at least two hounds previously noted for their excellent rabbit work. After some other interesting hound work and a thrilling view across the sightline of the entire gallery, with the whole pack on the line, their voices rushing the blood of onlookers, judges were ready for their final decision. Happily most of the gallery, the whips and both outriders were on hand for this last and most observable phase of the competition. And in spite of the 2 1/2 hours running and walking, the dampness in the air was beginning to take a toll. Even outriders were getting cold.
Back at the clubhouse the feast was fabulous. The buffet included the regular fare of scrambled eggs, grits, bacon and sausage, croissants, biscuits and gravy, fruit and salad, as well as Hasenpfeffer and Kedgeree. Guests helped themselves to the brunch while orange juice and Bloody Marys were served at the tables. The judges finalized their reports. The results were: First in the Beagle Division, My Half Glisten, second was My Half Serius, third, Sandanona Lotto, and fourth was My Half Jiver. First in the Basset Division was Three Creek Einstein, second, Three Creek Duncan, third place went to Okaw Valley Canole and fourth was Okaw Valley Ashes.
The judges had been deliberating hard over these decisions, having seen at close hand two of the bassets that worked the rabbits not just diligently, but brilliantly, but that had succumbed to the deer temptation. One of them was so audacious as to find and roust up a deer lying asleep in the long grass and to push it rudely into the woods. Both Tommy Jackson and Ursula Walsh had noticed the brilliance of these two and felt they had to credit them in spite of their transgressions with the deer. The huntsmen were in agreement. Three Creek Martini and Three Creek Meagan merited an Honorable Mention for this, but it might easily have been noted as “Dishonorable” Mention.
All in all, the weekend was a big success. As the last guests, horses and hound trailers drove out the gate, the earlier predicted “frozen mix” began to sleet down on the few dashing to their cars. What luck! All looking forward again to next year’s Beagle and Basset Spectacular, the Gumbo Flats Gold Cup Stake in 2014.