Living ‘Legend’ Wins National Amateur Championship


He’s big, he’s handsome, and now he’s a “legend” among the great retrievers that have won the prestigious National Amateur Retriever Championship. Meet NAFC-FC Coolwater’s Hawkeye Legend, winner of the 2016 National Amateur Championship held June 18 to 25 in Stowe, Vermont, and his owner-handler, Alexandra “Alex” Washburn of Bruce, Mississippi.

It’s early morning in Vermont, less than 24 hours after the biggest win of their retriever field trial careers, and Alex is already in the yard, tossing bumpers for her “Legend.”

“He loves it,” Alex says of the morning ritual. “It’s a little marking drill I do every day with all my dogs that helps keep them sharp.”

Legend was certainly sharp in Stowe, outperforming more than 100 of the top retrievers in the country to win the National Amateur. A meticulous and dedicated owner, handler and breeder of talented retrievers, Alex Washburn handled Legend through 10 challenging tests over land and water during the weeklong competition.

“He’s such a cool dog,” Alex says. “And a real specimen of what a Labrador should be and look like. He has a big, classic head, great bone structure, and he’s excellent on all his health clearances. It was really great to see him perform so well on this national stage.”

With Legend being 9 years of age, Alex knew this might be this retriever’s last shot at winning a National. “A lot of factors have to come into play to make it to the 10th series, much less finish a National,” she says. “These are all great dogs. The fact that I won really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

With 29 years in the retriever game, Alex has owned, bred, trained, and handled her share of great dogs. She’s been a National Amateur Finalist several times with several dogs, including Legend, AFC Coolwater’s Makin’ Trax (“Honda”), AFC Coolwater’s Storm Chaser (“Chase”), and twice with FC-AFC Coolwater’s Knockout (“Punch”). Alex also handed Punch, now retired, as a Finalist in the National Open.

At Stowe, it was Legend’s turn.

“He’s the most charismatic dog I’ve ever owned,” Alex says. “He’s happy, he’s playful, he loves to retrieve, and he’s a total ham.”

When the trial starts, the talent and focus kicks in.

“Legend is a great marker, very strong in the water, and he’s a team player,” says Alex. “He works with me on the line and has often been described as ‘100 pounds of compliance.’ We have great eye contact with each other.”

At a solid 98 pounds, Legend is likely one of the larger Labradors she’s owned. At the winner’s party in Vermont, she joked that she has to limit Legend’s food intake.

“He loves Purina Pro Plan Performance,” Alex says.  “All my dogs do, which is important. The dogs look good on Pro Plan. Their coats are shiny, and they maintain good body condition and muscle tone. I think Legend would eat as much Pro Plan as I’d let him as he certainly enjoys mealtime.”

Alex is a determined competitor, with a tremendous work ethic. She’s usually awake by 4:30 a.m., and trains every day rain or shine.

“People laugh when they see me do my little drills with the dogs,” she says. “I have a really strong bond with all my dogs. We go for lots of long walks. I think the informal times we spend together help to develop a dog with less mental stress. I think it helps make a difference with their overall training.”

Her philosophy is simple. “Train each dog to the best of his or her ability, and make your expectations clear,” Alex says. “Train with the goal of achieving peak performance from each individual dog. Some dogs may reach their potential running hunt tests or all age stakes. A special dog like Legend reached his peak performance by winning a National.”