Change May Have to Wait at This Year's Westminster

A heavily-favored terrier may end the two-year reign of the underdog at the WKC

The Westminster Kennel Club Annual All Breed Dog Show has never been mistaken for -- nor intended to be -- a mirror of America’s dog-loving soul.  A public clinic on  the standards of conformation for the various breeds, yes.  A celebration of all that’s wonderful about Man’s Best Friend, no doubt.

But when terriers of various breeds win Best In Show at Westminster more than a third of the time (45 wins and counting), and fox terriers alone are almost 40% of those winning terriers (17 to date), a vague sense of an “elite” in the dog world gnaws at the leash.

Add to that nine Best In Shows at Westminster for poodles, six for English Springer Spaniels and five for pointer dogs (the symbol of the WKC), and the lyric “you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog” delivers an opprobrium more cutting than Leiber and Stoller might have intended.  “You ain’t never caught a rabbit” indeed—you hounds ain’t never caught a Best In Show at Westminster (unless you’re a well-coiffed Afghan Hound in 1957 or 1983).

Change, however, may be trickling down to one of our oldest sporting entertainments.  The WKC’s 134th running of the dogs on Monday and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden may very well find the country’s second longest running sporting event (the Kentucky Derby has gathered more moss) reflecting the “change” polls say the citizenry desires.

That being said, the Scottish Terrier named Sadie has steamrolled through the major dog shows of 2009, winning every Best In Show of consequence, and is next week’s heavy favorite at Westminster, according to dog people as well as wise guys in Las Vegas.   The Wynn Hotel Race & Sports Book is in its fourth year of offering odds on breeds winning Westminster (as opposed to individual dogs).   This year Scottish Terriers are the 8/1 favorite to win Best In Show; one may assume Sadie is the only calculus in that computation.  Sadie is a beautiful example of her breed:  she has 100 Best In Show career wins, and she won the Terrier Group at last year’s WKC show.  Scottish Terriers have won Best In Show at Westminster seven times, making 8/1 look like a lock.

But note:  after Sadie (oops, Scottish Terriers) the Vegas dog walkers like Golden Retrievers at 15/1.  The American Kennel Club has regularly reported that Labrador retrievers are the number one registered breed in America, and Golden Retrievers are usually the second, third or fourth highest registered breed.  Anyone who walks a dog in these United States knows Goldens are as common as delivery men on bicycles.

Nevertheless, no retriever, Golden or otherwise, has ever won Best In Show at Westminster.  (Neither has a dachschund, also one of America’s favorite breeds.  There will be 63 dachschunds at the Garden on Monday.)   Why is Vegas so excited about Golden Retrievers?  A Golden named Treasure is ranked number four among all dogs in 2009 competitions in the US, and the 15/1 odds are based upon Treasure’s success.

A Puli named Conrad enters next week’s WKC show as the third-winningest dog in the US in 2009; last year Conrad won the Herding Group trophy at Westminster but saw Best In Show go to the Sussex Spaniel, Stump (more on him in a moment).  The Puli is the best know of four great breeds of shepherd dogs in Hungary.  Its corded coat, usually solid black, suggests a Rasta floor mop, and the breed arrived in the US only in the 1930’s.  But thanks to Contrad, Pulis are 16/1 on the Vegas board.

Stump’s Best In Show win last year at Westminster was not just out of left field, it was clear out of the visitor’s bullpen.  Think of it this way:  a Sussex Spaniel winning Westminster is like the LA Clippers winning the NBA title.  Not only was Stump the best of a very obscure breed; he was 10 years old when he won (the previous oldest Best In Show at Westminster wasn’t quite eight years old), and before last year’s show Stump hadn’t been in a show ring for almost four years.  Stump’s downtime was not due to laziness or rehab—he had contracted a life-threatening viral infection that put him in the veterinary hospital at Texas A&M University for 19 days during which time, says his owner/handler Scott Sommers, “he had a temperature of 105.5 degrees and every major organ in his body would shut down on a daily basis.”  Stump was almost euthanized.
But Stump won Best In Show at Westminster.  The year before, in 2008, a crowd-pleasing beagle named Uno won Best In Show against a star-studded bunch of Group winners; it was arguably a vote for both Snoopy AND “change.”  (A beagle had never won before at Westminster.)  In 2006 a Colored Bull Terrier won Best in Show.  That makes three renegade breeds in four years strutting out of the Garden with dogdom’s most highly prized trophy.
Are tectonic plates shifting under the pillars of Westminster?  Is 2010 finally the year a basset hound gets it done?  Or will a fox terrier put its four paws down and restore order and decorum?
Stay tuned—Sadie will undoubtedly have something to say about it.

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