Back in the day, the biggest trials were the National Championship, the National Free For All Championship, the Southern Championship and the Continental. The Southern changed grounds a couple times from its most identified grounds near Poplarville, MS. The Free For All lost its main sponsor and is being contested this year with only a 1 and 1/2 hour second series. The Continental has always been important and seems to have risen in prestige due to Dixie Plantation being one of the great venues with wild quail. I DO NOT think these consensus old time great trials identified exactly the same things in our great field trial dogs. That was part of their attraction IMO. Win all of them and handler and dog could be famous!
To win the National at Ames required a three hour, bird finder bending to the wishes of his handler and "hunting for the gun." Read that Amesian Standard again and again. The Free For All on the other hand called for the biggest, toughest running all age dog to show for an hour and then do the same thing for three more!
The Southern (Poplarville) grounds were pretty tough I'm told and the two hour final was a grind in itself. The Continental being held in the piney woods is also different in the dog's performance. The history of the 1:50 finals is a great story.
In distinguishing the most important trials for me, the prairie is telling in proving a dog can reach to the limits where everyone can see those limits! Point those wild chickens and Huns at Mortlach and finish often in afternoon summer heat (or snow!). Because these trials are different enough from each other and what they ask of the dog, I think these are the most important field trials in the country. You can entice folks to come to other venues with great grounds, wild birds, extra nice facilities, an added purse, etc but you would hope that nearly all the great dogs would meet and compete in these most important stakes.
Since the venues and even the format of one of these trials has changed radically from their historic position in the all age trial game, some change in prestige is inevitable. I have no problem with that - just wish these were back to their glory days in attendance and importance!