The Benjamin H. Hardaway III Perpetual Cup is awarded annually at the Virginia Foxhound Show to the winner of the Performance Hound Class. Given in 2000 by Edgar S. "Epp" Wilson, MFH, Belle Meade Hunt (GA), this year will mark the trophy's first presentation since Mr. Hardaway passed away last October. We asked Wilson to share the trophy's origins. - Ed.

Well, it is very symbolic. It came about both over a period of years - and very suddenly. Let’s lay the groundwork. There were three MFH/huntsmen who influenced me a whole lot.

All three were kind to me as a young man and took me under their wing. I was very lucky as they were all great at their own styles. They were:

1. James E. Wilson, Jr., MFH, my father - who founded Belle Meade and to whom I whipped-in for 15 seasons.
2. C. Martin Wood, III, MFH, Live Oak Hounds (FL), my good friend and mentor.
3. Benjamin H. Hardaway, III, MFH, Midland Fox Hounds (GA), my good friend and mentor.

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As you know, Hardaway and his son-in-law, Mason Lampton, hosted the very first mounted hound performance trial at Fitzpatrick, Alabama in 1996. I was hunting with Mr. Hardaway almost monthly back then. He gave me lots of good hounds and lots of good advice.

He called me one day as he was planning the details. “Hey Epp, Would you rather win the individual championship or the pack championship?”

“Well, Mr. Hardaway, I would rather win the pack.”

“Why is that?” he asked.

“Easy. I could luck up and win the individual with one great hound. But, to win the pack championship - that would take a real hunting program that works for the pack. That would recognize and validate the whole program.”

“OK, boy. That makes sense. I would rather win the individual.”

Guess who won what?

Midland Secret '91 won the individual championship. Scenting was not great and she was diligent - the most diligent and productive of all the hounds at the event - in those challenging conditions. See page 306 in Never Outfoxed [Hardaway's 1997 autobiography of his hunting life] for a picture of Midland Secret '91 at the 1996 hound trials in Fitzpatrick. See page 257 for a picture of Hardaway holding Midland Secret '91 and Belle Meade Sterling '91 - littermates - blue merle puppies. Notice Hardaway’s linen suit. That was Midland Puppy Show Day. Sterling won first place in Full Cry at the trials. This is the second highest honor of the entire event.

The Belle Meade pack got very lucky and won the pack championship. That one thing put Belle Meade on the map like nothing before. And it set me on fire about the hound performance trials. The secret to our good fortune was that we had bet on the right race horse. We had bred to the Midland lines and upgraded our pack dramatically. And this was the result.

Those bloodlines were so strong and so capable, that even a neophyte huntsman like me couldn’t mess them up.

Midland hosted another trial in 1997. The scenting was terrible. Hounds struggled for scent - rather than hunted - for three days. It was okay. But it was so disappointing that they did not host another one for some years.

When I began my tenure as the MFHA Southern District Representative, in 2001, I took my father with me to the beginning of the Virginia Hound Show weekend. He was declining and I wanted him to see the Museum of Hounds and Hunting at Morven Park. He was not up to attending the hound show, the horn blowing contest or the other events. He was barely able to tour the museum. And I particularly wanted him to sign the Huntsman’s Book in the Huntsman’s Room. He had hunted the hounds for 19 seasons. We called ahead and arranged a special private opening of the Museum. Will O’Keefe was wonderful. He met us at the door and conducted the tour personally. As planned, our dear friend, Hardy Pickett, former MFH of Goshen Hounds (MD), met us at the museum and helped us with Master James.

Watching my father sign the Huntsman’s Book - with his shaking hand - was emotional for all of us. He was the one who taught me to love hunting so much.

After that Hardy took him on to Dulles and helped him all the way to the plane. My brothers met him back in Atlanta and took him home. Less than a year later, my father went home to be with the Good Lord. We were all so glad we got him to sign the Huntsman’s Book before it was too late.

The night before he and I went to the Museum, we got a call from Irmgard Hill, MFH, Red Mountain Foxhounds (NC) and President of the American Foxhound Club. She said she wanted to do something new and progressive with the American Foxhound Club. She wanted to add performance trial classes to the sanctioned hound shows - and she wanted my help. I was absolutely thrilled! Her concept was for the top ten hounds at sanctioned performance trials to be eligible to enter the performance trial class at the shows. This meant that simply walking into the ring was a big deal. Each of these hounds was already a champion.

To me the hound performance trials were and are the perfect way to evaluate hounds and decide what hounds to breed.

Irmgard’s idea to have these classes in the sanctioned shows would validate the concept better than ever.

I didn’t sleep much that night - thinking about the best way to handle this. And how best to get these new classes cemented into the hound shows - particularly the Virginia Hound show - which is functionally our national hound show. Jimmy Young, MFH, was the President of the Virginia Hound Show at the time. So, I offered to do a very nice trophy for the class. He agreed graciously.

Then, I needed to find someone who would do something both classy and dramatic. Something big in concept and big in reality. Margery Torrey had done so many beautiful pieces recently - she was the one I wanted to talk to first. Hardaway invited a bunch of us to join him for the after hound show dinner at the Red Fox Inn. Fighting off stiff competition, I maneuvered to sit next to the lovely and charming Margery. Hardaway had won the Crossbred Championship and the Grand Champion of the Show. Between champagne toasts and wonderful foxhunting stories - Margery and I had chatted earlier that day about the trophy concept. Now we were talking details. She liked it and agreed to do a mock up. It was to be the Hardaway Hound Performance Trial Trophy.

A few weeks later, she sent the artist’s concept sketches and they were amazing. A round trophy - shaped with graduated layers much like a wedding cake. It was to have a coyote at the top, a bas relief of Mr. Hardaway on the next level down. Then a relief of several hounds running - a full circle of hounds - particular hounds - running around that level - like a hat band. The whole thing - the “cake” was to be burled walnut or mahogany. All the figures were to be bronze - attached to the wooden core. The whole thing sat on a rotating base. It was the coolest and most interesting hound trophy I had ever seen.

We agreed for her to proceed.

The rest is history. Hound performance trials all over North America. A series of a dozen of them during the MFHA Centennial. And another series - 13 of them - just completed as part of Hark Forward. We hosted our 18th trial at Belle Meade in January.

We are pleased that at the Virginia Hound Show, this class is held at the highest point of the day - after the pack classes and before the Grand Championship class. It is appropriate that it is held at such an important time in the show - right along with the grand finale. Honestly I would rather win the Performance Trial Class than the Grand Champion Class. The Performance Trial Class winner is proven to be one of the best hunting hounds around. The Grand Champion may or may not be a great hunter.

Back to the phone call from Irmgard. That was one of my all-time favorite phone calls. She had the guts to suggest something new and good for our beloved sport. I felt like fate had just delivered us a full house poker hand with an ace high. I still feel that way.

If you have participated in a hound performance trial, then you know how much fun it is. If you haven’t, we invite you. We entreat you. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and mark your calendar. The 2019 Belle Meade Hound Performance Trial is set for January 17, 18 and 19, 2019. You are officially invited! There are others around the country, too. Those dates will be announced soon.

Happy Hunting!

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