By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
Westminster is the most well-known dog show in America, standing behind only the Kentucky Derby as the nation's most long-standing sporting event. This year, the 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be held Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 11-12, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and televised on CNBC and the USA Network.
The prestigious event will host 3,200 barking participants. At the start, each dog competes against its own breed. If you happen to be a Golden Retriever, for example, this year it means the competition is grueling, with a field of 60 individual Goldens all seeking the status of top Golden. Only one will then be named top dog, and that individual moves on to complete against all the member breeds of the Sporting Group. Compare that to an Entlebucher Mountain Dog, a rare breed, which only deals with a pawful of other competitors vying for Best in that breed.
Each of the 187 breeds and varieties is recognized under one of seven groups. Goldens are in the Sporting Group, while Entelbucher Mountain Dogs appear in the Herding Group. The remaining five Groups include: Hound, Non-Sporting, Terrier, Toy and Working. The Group competition is the point at which TV coverage kicks off, with David Frei and Mary Carillo announcing each of the seven Group contests. One winner is named for each group, and it's those seven good-looking canines who participate in the always suspenseful Best on Show competition.
While Westminster may carry the image of being a stodgy affair, in reality, the sold-out house at the Garden seems to get behind one or two of the top seven dogs -- and the fans aren't shy about expressing themselves in bold New York fashion! As fans scream, the Garden rattles as it does for any Knicks basketball game. Frei agrees that the crowd seems to always decide on their favorites among the final seven, as if all 18,200 fans are texting one another to determine which dog to cheer for.
"I'm not sure they all have one another's (cell phone) numbers," says Frei with a laugh.
In 2005, a German Shorthaired Pointer named Carlee was still being judged when she presented a perfect stack.
"It's a dog show stance, and is much like how the German Shorthaired stands in the field," says Frei. "As the crowd went crazy, Carlee froze -- she didn't move, and the crowd went more nuts. By that time, how could she not win? To this day, it's known as 'the stack heard around the world.'"
Three years later, Frei says he witnessed the loudest roar in his 12 years announcing Westminster. He could barely hear himself as a great little showman, a Beagle named Uno, was awarded Best in Show.
"He owned the ground he walked on and he knew it," Frei recalls. Uno responded to the cheering crowd with a cocky strut (as if he was saying "I've got this thing") and a howl so loud thousands in the Garden heard it.
Best in Show judges aren't supposed to consider anything except the breed standard -- not an ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy.
"Let's face it, there's some subjectivity in this, and there's one more thing," says Frei. "Judges all have one thing in common: they're human. How can you not pay attention to the crowd? Or your own emotions?" This year's Best in Show judge will be Michael Dougherty, of Escondito, CA. He understands what Westminster is like. He received his dog show start decades ago; he competed in the Garden as a junior handler.
For the first time ever, Breed competition for all 187 breeds and varieties will be streamed live at www.westminsterkennelclub.org Monday and Tuesday morning and afternoon, Feb. 11-12, followed by the telecast of the first round of Group competition on Monday, starting 8 p.m. ET on CNBC. The final Group competition and Best in Show will be televised Tuesday, Feb. 12, starting at 8 p.m. on the USA Network.
Here are announcer David Frei's top five best bets to win Best in Show at Westminster this year (not that Frei is encouraging wagering).
-- German Wirehaired Pointer Champion (Ch.) Mt. View's Ripsnorter Silver Charm: Currently the No. 1 dog in America, winning many Best in Shows in 2012.
"He's rock solid, but being number one doesn't always translate to number one at Westminster," Frei says.
--English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Wynmoor Champagne Supernova: The No. 2 dog in America. Frei theorizes,
"An English Springer won Best in Show as recently at 2007, so it may be tough to repeat it again so soon. Still, this is one great dog," he says.
--American Cocker Spaniel (Black), Ch. Casablanca's Thrilling Seduction. A year ago, this dog won the Sporting Group at Westminster. The dog's family calls him Beckham, and he might bend like his soccer-playing namesake and win!
--Wire Fox Terrier, Ch. After All Painting The Sky: Of all breeds, Wire Fox Terriers have enjoyed the most success at Westminster with 13 Best in Show victories. This dog won the National Dog Show in November and AKC Invitational in December, and if he wins Westminster will win what Frei dubs "the triple crown of the dog world."
--Doberman Pincher, Ch Protocol's Veni Vidi Vici: Shown by an owner who's also the dog's handler in the ring. An owner/handler hasn't won Best in Show since 1983, so this dog is 'underdog' in this era of expensive handlers, and is bound to be a crowd favorite. Last year, this Dobie won the Working Group at the Garden, and Frei says he might just take it all this time around.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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