Although conformation diehards attend dog shows every weekend of the year, few events combine top-drawer competition and glamorous, black-tie tradition in one thrilling package. The 134th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which will be held Feb. 15 and 16 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, is all about the wow factor.
It’s fitting that the hoopla takes place in the city that never sleeps because for an entire week neither will the dog fancy, what with the hectic itinerary of cocktail parties, awards luncheons and dinners, seminars, and specialties all leading up to those two magical days.
So who are the leading contenders this year? And how are the astute judges feeling about the most prestigious assignment in all of dogdom?
In the Sporting Group, look for Golden Retriever bitch Ch. Toasty’s Treasure Island, handled by Clint Livingston of Brighton, Colo. This Golden was leading the pack in gundogs in early October. Another worth watching is the black Labrador Retriever Ch. Casbar’s Hart to Hart, a consistent winner in 2009, shown by retriever specialist Joy Quallenberg of Wurtsburo, N.Y. And 2009 was the year that Sporting Groups were won by a whisker, when not one but two German Wirehaired Pointers made it into the Top 5 Sporting dogs: Ch. Ripsnorter’s Mt View Lookout and Ch. Star K’s Mile Hi Valentine.
Judging the Sporting Group will be Donald Sturz Jr., Ph.D. of Centerport, N.Y. Although Sturz is currently an owner-handler of Miniature Poodles and lure courses his Greyhound, he began in the sport as a junior handler, showing Golden Retrievers. This Group and this show hold a special place in his heart, he says. “Each time I have judged [at Westminster], I have experienced the same thrill I experienced the first time I showed there at 10 years of age. This year’s panel of Sporting Group breed judges is made up of individuals with very strong backgrounds in this Group as breeders.”
For the owner of the Best of Breed-winning Irish Red and White Setter, it will be history in the making because this is one of three new American Kennel Club breeds that will be competing at the Garden for the first time.
The Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Ch. Rokeena Carte Blanche, imported from Australia, was a top campaigner throughout 2009 and is sure to make his presence known in the Westminster Hound Group. But first, the PBGV from Down Under must defeat the PBGV from England, Ch. Afterglow Ebenezer, who won the breed at Westminster in 2009 and finished the year among the Top 5 Hounds.
The Irish Wolfhound Ch. Dun Myrica Speaker of Eagle claimed a Group 2 here in 2009 and has had a phenomenal year, ranking high in the Top 5 Hounds. He is another who may well catch the eye of Hound Group judge W. Everett Dean Jr. of Richmond, Va.
Doberman Pinschers have historically done well at the Garden. At press time, the red Doberman Pinscher bitch Ch. Allure Blazing Star Alisaton had a firm paw on the No. 2 position all breeds, so we will watch her performance with enthusiasm. Her handler, Carissa DeMilta Shimpeno of Downingtown, Pa., is also a second-generation dog woman, the daughter of acclaimed Doberman breeder and handler Gwen DeMilta of Reddington Township, N.J., who co-bred this bitch.
Boxers have been equally successful at the Garden. Last year’s Group 2 winner, Ch. Winfall Brookwood Styled Dream, had a tremendous year, so it will be interesting to see if she makes it through BOB and turns on the charisma in the Group ring.
Longtime Alaskan Malamute breeder Kimberly Meredith-Cavanna of Pleasant Hill, Calif., is a Working Group authority, and is greatly looking forward to her upcoming judging assignment. “It is the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to judge the ‘best of the best,’” she says. She hopes the breed judges will send her “dogs dripping in breed type; in wonderful, muscled condition with four good legs.”
Scottish Terrier Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot used her Westminster 2009 Group First win to launch what has been an explosive year for this little firecracker. At press time, she was comfortably ensconced in the top spot: No. 1 dog all breeds. Will 2010 Terrier Group judge Loraine Boutwell find the Scottie and her talented handler Gabriel Rangel for a repeat Group First?
The Scottie’s co-breeder is Anstamm Kennels in Kalamazoo, Mich., the oldest kennel in the country still actively breeding top show Scottish Terriers.
Asked how it feels to be preparing the Scottie for Westminster 2010, Cindy Cooke of Anstamm replies, “The difference is an easy one: In 2009 she was a contender and in 2010, she’s the dog to beat. All she has to do to please us is to be herself – a great example of a Scottish Terrier bitch in her prime who enjoys every aspect of the dog-show game.”
Savvy terrier types will also watch the Lakeland Ch. Hi-Kel Terrydale Soldier of Fortune; the Airedale Ch. Stirling Cool Hand Luke; and the Canadian-bred Sealyham Ch. Efbe’s Merci Pour le Poivre, a full brother to ‘Charmin,’ who won the Group here in 2008.
Judging the Toy Group will be Shirley Limoges of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, who bred many fine Pugs over several decades and faithfully attends Westminster each year as an interested spectator. “When I opened the envelope … and found that I had been invited to judge the Toy Group at Westminster in 2010, I was overwhelmed by the honor,” Limoges says.
Having had the pleasure of seeing his Toy Poodle Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory take the Group at the Garden in 2007 and 2008, and his Miniature Poodle Ch. Surrey Spice Girl go BIS in 2002, Ron Scott of Dillsberg, Pa., can speak from experience about the significance of a win at the Garden. “It is the Super Bowl of dogs, where a win at any level is treasured, and a Group or Best-in-Show win is remembered forever,” he says.
A new white Toy Poodle, Ch. Smash JP Moon Walk, from Japan, represented Scott in the Toy Group in 2009, and was firmly positioned in the No. 1 spot at press time. Other strong contenders include the Pug Ch. Tupelo Shoboat Tu China Tu; the Affenpinscher Ch. Tamarin Tug; and the Pekingese Ch. Franshaw Hear Me Roar.
Poodles dominate the Non-Sporting Group, as well. At press time, the No. 1 Non-Sporting Dog was black Standard Poodle Ch. Hillwood Dassin De-Lovely, the daughter of Ch. Ale Kai Miki Moto On Fifth, who won the Group at Westminster in 2003 and 2004. The Bulldog bitch Ch. Kepley’s Showbiz Razzle Dazzle, who earned a Group 3 at the Garden in 2009, has had a great year, so she is another with star quality to watch.
Dorothy Dalton of Stuart, Fla., will be judging the Non-Sporting Group finals.
Linda More of Cary, N.C., bred Shetland Sheepdogs for many years, and it will be her pleasure to adjudicate in the Herding Group ring. “Westminster occupies a unique place in the history and tradition of our sport, and it has been special to me since I first exhibited there – back when there were class entries, too – and remains so,” More says. “Judging there is more special to me than exhibiting was; it is the place where judges still get to judge many of the best dogs against each other and we must exercise our judgment to the very best of our abilities.”
The 2009 Herding Group winner, Puli Ch. Cordmaker Field of Dreams, went on to become the No. 1 Herding dog of the year and No. 3 all breeds. His co-breeders, Pat Turner and Ann Quigley, both from Chehalis, Wash., who also won the Working Group in 1993 with an owner-handled Komondor, explain that the “thrill of having such success in two breeds is beyond words.”
In addition to the Puli, watch for the Bearded Collie Ch. Tolkien Raintree Mister Baggins; the Old English Sheepdog Ch. Lambluv’s Daydream Believer; and the Pyrenean Shepherd Ch. Germinale de la Brise. The Pyr Shep and the Norwegian Buhund are both making their Westminster debuts in 2010.
Patricia Princehouse of Chardon, Ohio, pioneer Pyrenean Shepherd breeder, says the breed community is “really energized. It’s been a long road, and we’re excited to finally be able to compete at Westminster.”
Cheryl Loesch, president of the Norwegian Buhund Club of America, says, “this is a breed that very few people have seen or even heard of, and they deserve to have a venue like Westminster to be introduced to the world. We know they will make a great impression.”
The magnificent seven
On Tuesday night, with seven sparkling Group winners in the ring, the man to impress will be BIS judge Elliott Weiss.
A native New Yorker, Weiss attended his first dog show – Westminster – as a kid in 1956, and the die was cast. From 1969 to 1993, Weiss worked as a professional handler. Among his proudest accomplishments was winning the Sporting Group at the Garden in 1984 with Irish Setter Ch. Meadowlark’s Anticipation.
“I judged the Terrier Group at Westminster in 2004 and the Sporting Group in 2008,” he says. “It was very exciting to receive those invitations, but nothing as humbling as being invited to do Best in Show. I have been blessed with many mentors over the years and I will carry their memory along with me as I choose one of the magnificent seven.”
Allan Reznik has been attending Westminster and reporting on the show for four decades. He is the Editor-at-Large of Dog World and lives with his Tibetan Spaniels in Southern California.