Is there a better way to start the new year than spending a weekend in Palm Springs? I doubt it, and obviously many other dog people feel the same way, since the shows held in early January at the Empire Polo Club in the Coachella Valley outside of town have remained one of the year’s most popular fixtures among exhibitors for many years.
Arriving on the grounds it’s easy to understand why this would be an appealing destination, especially for those coming from snow-covered parts of the country with sub-zero temperatures. There are few showgrounds more attractive than this anywhere: endless, immaculate lawns; rose bushes in bloom; white-painted fences; and shining polo ponies in the background. All judging is outdoors, but there are enormous tents, some of them permanent and housing concessions, including some of the best dog show food anywhere, with designer coffees and also stronger beverages of your choice. Other tents are put up especially for the show and provide shade for crates, grooming and the judges’ tables, at the same time as a large part of the rings remain in the sun. This is one of the few shows in California where you can enjoy the weather without getting too hot … although by evening (and Group judging is seldom over before dark) the sudden desert cold can go right through several layers of clothing.
For part of the 1990s and early 2000s the KC of Palm Springs was, in fact, the country’s biggest all-breed show. In recent years the numbers have slipped, here as elsewhere, so it was encouraging to see the year start with a big increase: 3,350 dogs were entered on Saturday and 3,233 on Sunday. That’s about 500 more than last year and will probably put Palm Springs right back in contention for “biggest show of the year.” (It’s too early to predict what the rest of the year will bring, but the only shows in the same league as this during 2010 were those in Louisville in March.) The all-breed shows in Palm Springs are of course immeasurably helped by the fact that several specialties and Group shows for Hounds, Terriers, Toys and Non-Sporting breeds were held on the Thursday and Friday.
It adds to the general glamour that the dog show is always held at the same time as the Palm Springs International Film Festival, a star-packed event that’s become one of the biggest in the movie business. If you didn’t see them at the dog show you might run across, for instance, Michael Douglas, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, Javier Bardem, Mark Wahlberg or Helen Mirren around town. More prosaically, since the festival reputedly attracts more than 100,000 visitors, it also means that hotel rooms are at a premium during the dog show weekend — and of course even on an average day Palm Springs is a popular winter destination for sun seekers from all across the country.
There’s almost nothing exhibitors like to argue about more than the merits of judges. What’s poison to one is perfection to another, but I think it’s fair to say that the judges’ panels at Palm Springs are subjected to more general criticism than most. That may not be fair, but one reason probably is that Palm Springs makes a habit of employing an unusually large number of provisional judges.
A quick glance in the catalog makes it clear that far fewer of the regular, mainstay judges were active at KCPS than at most other shows of a similar size, with the majority being new names for even most experienced exhibitors. We all have to start somewhere, and it’s great that some clubs encourage new judges, but it would be great if more clubs would follow AKC’s own initiative and present little biographies of the judges in the catalog.
Knowing that your judge of the day has a solid background in the breed(s) he or she is judging — as one hopes they have — would make most exhibitors feel a lot more comfortable. (And these days, with judges being allowed to “advertise” as much as they like, there isn’t even any risk for a conflict of interest.)
KC of Palm Springs seldom invites more than an occasional foreign judge. This year there were two overseas visitors, Fox Terrier specialists John and Lianne Rowles from New South Wales, Australia. Best in Show on the first day was judged by the only other foreign judge, Dr. Michael Woods from Canada, who chose as his winner the Affenpinscher GCh. Banana Joe v. Tani Kazari, co-owned by Zoila Truesdale with breeder Mieke Cooymans of the Netherlands.
This is the dog that created a sensation by winning Reserve BIS at the World Show in Denmark last year and then continuing his career in the US, winning scores of BIS and ending the season as one of the top Toy dogs in the US. He is handled by Ernesto Lara. Although born in the Netherlands, Joe is of mostly American breeding: his sire, US export Ch. Kyleakin Space Cowboy, has been very successful at some of the top shows in Europe.
The following day Jon Cole judged the finale and found his winner in another of last year’s new stars, the white Standard Poodle GCh. Brighton Lakeridge Encore, handled by Tim Brazier for owners Toni and Martin Sosnoff. “Ally’s” career is well documented: she finished by winning BIS at the Poodle Club of America national specialty and then, still only 2 years old, has proceeded to win an almost unbroken series of Group 1sts and Best in Shows.
Both these must be considered among the front runners for the Top Dog competition of 2011. Both of them are East Coast owned, but since Tim Brazier lives in Washington State, we now have a leading contender on each coast.
Professional handler Scott Price, also visiting from Washington, summed up exhibitors’ sentiments very well: “The only thing wrong with the Palm Springs shows is that when you leave on Monday, you realize it’s still January everywhere else!”