National Derby, Amateur & Open Retriever Champions Wow To Win


Attaining iconic status as a National Retriever Champion, three Labrador Retrievers powered up their best performances, going beyond talent and training, to win their respective Derby, Amateur and Open championship stakes in 2018. Designed to distinguish elite, fast-thinking, hard-charging retrievers, these weeklong championships, comprised of 10 challenging land and water tests and a Finals series, were an unforgettable, humbling ride on a journey to a job well done.

Consistent marking and quick retrieves translated to winning the National Derby Retriever Championship for “Pink” (NDC Seasides Got To Get Up and Try), an 18-month-old female handled by owner Robbie Knutson of Evans, Georgia. “She wasn’t perfect, but she did very well in all 10 series and the Finals,” says Knutson, who scored his biggest career win at the Derby National since going pro in 2015 with Jason Baker of Baker Retrievers in Washington, Georgia, after 13 years as an amateur. Proud to win, Knutson, has been the sole trainer of Pink, a gift from Frank and Rita Jones of Seaside Retrievers in Vernon, Florida. Held Oct. 8 to 12 in Sedalia, Missouri, the Derby National included 43 derby-age contenders. 

Hard-driving enthusiasm solidified the National Amateur Retriever Championship win for “Croc” (NAFC-FC-AFC Steadfast’s Bachelor Special), a 5-year-old male handled by owner Monte Wulf of Blair, Nebraska. “Croc was cranked up at the start, but he calmed down nicely and settled in as the week went on,” says Wulf, who co-owns Croc with his wife, Pam Wulf. Earning his most prestigious win after 35 years in the sport, Wulf credits his achievement to the late Bill Eckett, of Blackwater Retrievers, a Hall of Fame member, who recognized the dog’s talent yet allowed Wulf to buy Croc, forgoing his own opportunity. The National Amateur, held June 16 to 23 in Roseburg, Oregon, had 99 amateur-handled retrievers.  

Stylish and animated, “Google” (NFC-FC-AFC I’m Ur Search Engine) stood out to win the National Open Retriever Championship. The 5-year-old male, handled by pro Alan Pleasant of Black River Retrievers in Angier, North Carolina, is owned by Leon Stepanian of Manakin-Sabot, Virginia. “Google had an exceptionally nice trial all week long. He was perfect on all his marks,” says Pleasant, a two-time handler of a National Open winner, having also won in 2014 with “Bullet” (NFC-AFC Robber’s Stray Bullet). A pro retriever trainer for 35 years, Pleasant trained eight retrievers that qualified for this year’s National Open and handled two Finalists. With 105 retrievers competing, the National Open was held Nov. 10 to 17 in Paducah, Kentucky.

All three 2018 Retriever National Champions were fueled to their wins by Performance 30/20 Chicken & Rice Formula.