Sat, 01/15/2022 - 3:34pm

The Greatest Week in the Sport

For many, that describes the AKC National Championship each December in Orlando

Certainly one of the greatest weeks of shows takes place in Orlando, Florida, in mid-December, culminating in the AKC National Championship.

This year, things started off on Tuesday, December 14, with the Space Coast show, followed by the Brevard Kennel Club on Wednesday and Central Florida on Thursday. Friday was the Working and Herding group shows, plus the AKC Sweepstakes, National Owner Handled competition and many, many specialties. And of course, Saturday and Sunday, December 18 and 19, was the AKC National Championship itself. In addition, almost 4,000 dogs competed in performance events.

This makes for one of the most unique events in the entire sport anywhere in the world.

In conformation on Tuesday, the entry was 4,136. Wednesday the entry was 4,405, and Thursday 4,781. On Saturday and Sunday, the combined entry was 4,993. When you add up all the entries over the six days, it comes roughly close to 25,000 conformation entries.

The AKC shows started out as an Invitational in 2001 in Orlando. I do not know what the entry was, but by 2007 it had grown to 2,443.

The AKC Invitational was the brainchild of Ron Menaker. We all have to give him great credit for starting this so very unique show, which just gets better and better. Once it became open to all and no longer an invitational for just the top dogs, the entry skyrocketed to what it is today. The show was once held in Tampa as well as Long Beach, California. When it no longer had a limited entry, a much larger venue was needed. Every major convention center in the country was considered. The dog people on the West Coast felt it should stay there, but no venue could accommodate the show like Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center can. It basically is a perfect venue for the show. I was thinking how great it would be if New York City had a similar convention center. But because of the real-estate costs, a building like Orlando could never be done in New York City.

With the very large venue, the show started to add more special attractions. In previous years, the highlight of the show and sport worldwide was the Eukanuba World Challenge. It was so exciting to see the top winners from so many countries from all over the world competing together. I judged one of the sections one year and it was one of the most challenging assignments of my life.

It took a tremendous amount of money to stage the World Challenge. About 50 different countries competed. The airfare and all expenses for the handlers and owners were paid for. I am sure it cost several million dollars. The World Challenge was held at Crufts, but on a much more limited scale. No docked or cropped dogs could compete, and no dogs from the entire Western Hemisphere competed. It is a shame the World Challenge cannot be held with the World Dog Shows, but with the bans on cropping and docking many breeds could not compete. It would be a dream come true if all the major dog-food companies could join forces and hold the event somewhere, preferably in the U.S.

The Best Bred-By competition was added in 2003, and it has become a major, major competition. The depth of quality is so very strong, and we get to see the great winners of the future. In 2017, I judged the Non-Sporting and Terrier Puppy Sweepstakes groups. A Standard Poodle was my winner. This bitch won the Non-Sporting Group in 2020. The other three placements have gone on to be big winners. My Terrier sweeps winner won the breed the following year, beating the great Wire “King.” This Wire then went to Sweden to have a great career. Judging the Puppy Sweeps is like having a “crystal ball” to predict the future. Each year it is super strong.

Each year we see many, many foreign dogs, even this year with some countries not allowed to bring dogs in. This year, as in most years, the Pom ring was dominated by the Koreans. One day WD and WB in Goldens were Korean dogs. That same day the WD in Labs was from Korea. Mexico dominated the Lab ring most of the days. The Welsh that placed third in the Terrier Group at the AKC show was visiting from Europe. Several foreign Frenchies did very well. I am sure this was the same in a lot of breeds I did not see. I judged Dobermans at the AKC show and was so very surprised at the wonderful depth of quality. It was so different from most shows. My WD and RWD were both visiting from Argentina. The WB is living here now, but is owned and bred in Argentina. The RWB was also a visitor from Argentina. It was a rewarding assignment for me.

Normally, as the long week starts on Tuesday, BIS and Reserve BIS are won by the very top-winning dogs in the country. This year was an exception. On Tuesday, Stuart McGraw went BIS with a young new Borzoi that he co-bred. This win had to be exceptionally meaningful coming from “Mr. Sighthound,” Espen Eng. Reserve Best for Espen was the young new Peke of David Fitzpatrick.

At the Wednesday show, Dr. Gyorgy from Hungary put up our number-one dog, the Sammy “Striker” for BIS. His Reserve Best was the Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen that later won the Hound Group at the AKC show.

On Thursday, Ramon Podesta, the famous breeder and judge from Chile, make his winner the young Peke. Reserve was the Sammy.

For the first three days it was nice to see new young dogs doing so well.

Westminster and the AKC show are certainly the two most prominent shows in the U.S. and get great respect worldwide. They are such totally different types of shows. At Westminster, a large percentage of dogs are the invited top dogs, and many other top specials. Not having class dogs means that it is rare to find any dogs that have not been seen before. Westminster is like Crufts in that it has so much tradition behind it. It has been around since 1907 and is just one year younger than the Kentucky Derby. The AKC show, only being two decades old, is still a work in progress. The biggest difference is the depth of quality. Not being limited, the AKC can have much larger entries in every breed. Having class animals allows for some great dogs from foreign countries to compete. As spectators, at the AKC show we have a chance to see many, many breeds judged over six days. At Westminster we only get to see a limited number of breeds. At Crufts because of the extremely large entries in many breeds, several rings are running at the same time, so we only see part of a breed. At least at the World Show, a lot of breeds are shown several days.

On Friday the highlight of the day was seeing the Puppy Stakes. The Best in Sweeps had seven great young dogs competing. The three judges finally decided an Irish Setter bitch would be crowned the winner. Myself, I think they should have two judges and a referee if needed. With the great depth of quality and not one dog being the standout, it must have been very difficult for the judges. I wish they would also have a Reserve Best for the Sweeps, like we do for BIS and some other competitions.

Saturday morning everyone was all charged up to count down who would be the ultimate BIS winner. On Saturday, 2,846 dogs were judged by 22 judges. Nearly all the judges had large assignments, averaging to about 130 dogs each. Plus 141 juniors were split between Kim Langlands and Jeff Hanlin. Judging started at 8 a.m. The Bred-By groups started at 3 p.m. in Ring 4 with Hounds, Toys and then Sporting. At 3:15 the Non-Sporting Bred-By was in Ring 3. The Bred-By groups overlapped a bit to save time, in order to start the regular groups by 4:30 p.m. All the groups were full and the judges had to move quickly, and yet could make large cuts. Also, between each group we had commercial breaks. These commercials pay for us to be able to hold the show. It was close to 8:30 p.m. when the last group finished Saturday.

For the Bred-By Non-Sporting, Timothy Catterson found his winner to be the French Bulldog that Perry Payson handles and co-bred. “Winston” ended the year as number-one Non-Sporting dog. Pamela Lambie found the Bloodhound shown by Tara Schultz that she co-bred with Susan Hamil of Quiet Creek fame. Among the Toys, Richard Albee selected the Peke of David Fitzpatrick. “Fortune Cookie” had already won a BIS and a Reserve Best on previous days.

Debbie Melgreen judged the Sporting Bred-By and her winner was the English Cocker shown and co-bred by Kristin Lyons. This bitch has been a top Sporting Group winner.

Pamela Bruce took charge of the Hound Group at 4:30 p.m., and out of a great Group of Hounds the Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen was the victor. His handler Janice Hayes had just broken the all-time record with him. Interestingly, there were only four entered, but all of them were co-bred by Corey Benedict, who was a leader in getting the breed recognized.

Susan St. John Brown had a very strong Non-Sporting final. It went to the Peruvian-bred Bulldog “Thor,” handled by the Brazilian handler Eduardo Paris. Next up were the Toys with Johnny Shoemaker having to use his thinking cap at full speed. Here again was the Peke with David Fitzpatrick being the winner. The Sporting Group ended the long day with Beth Sweigart finding her winner to be the German Wirehaired Pointer shown by Annmarie Ruggieri: This bitch was the only one of the top-10 dogs in the country to win a group at the AKC show.

At around 9 p.m., a few drinks and a great meal at the Capital Grill were a perfect ending celebration with close friends. One night we were all so tired, we opted for the B-Line Diner at the Hyatt.

When my wake-up call rang on Sunday at 6 a.m., I did get up slowly and was not as chipper as the previous days. I did want to see some breeds at 8 a.m., but I was glad I was not judging until 11:15 a.m.

On Sunday, the three groups being judged were Working, Herding and Terrier. This meant only 2,005 dogs, which was about 800 less than Saturday. At 3 p.m. in Ring 4, the Bred-By Herding and Terriers started. At 4 p.m. was Working Bred-By. The regular groups started in the arena at 4:30 p.m.

Terry Stacy found the Alaskan Malamute to be his Bred-By winner. Jennifer Corr and Tina Dunn are the breeders. This made the long trip from California very worthwhile. Cathy Dougherty in the Herding group found the Pyrenean Shepherd as her winner, piloted by Brendan Coleman, who co-bred him with Patricia Pricehouse and Karen Rom. Brendan has been the one to put this breed in the limelight. This rare breed comes either rough-faced or smooth faced, with lots of DQs in each coat. The DQs are different, depending on the hair on the face. It is a very interesting standard.

Larry Cornelius had a super-strong Terrier Bred-By. There were a lot of top-winning Terriers in the ring. It was stronger than the regular group at 90 percent of shows. His winner became the Scottish Terrier piloted by the Shafer ladies of Wyoming. This dog has won about 20 all-breed Best in Shows, and is one of the all-time winning Scottish Terriers. It is rare that an owner-handler dominates the Terrier Group as much as this dog has.

At 4:30 p.m., the main area started with Charlie Olvis presiding over the Herding dogs. The blue merle Australian Shepherd piloted by Megan Hof was crowned the victor. Next was the Working Group judged by Norman Kenney. The Giant Schnauzer handled by Alfonso Escobedo was declared the top in a great field of Working dogs.

After the Working Group was the Best Bred-By judged by Elliott Weiss. From a wonderful group of seven, his winner became the Peke. In 2019, David was also Best Bred-By. David also won the Toy Group Bred-By in 2016, 2018 and 2020. For several years now, the Bred-By competition has been dominated by handlers who are also breeders. We also have to realize many breeders take advice about breeding from their handlers. So many of the top handlers today are also our top breeders.

The Terrier Group judged by Edd Bivin was the last group. The Smooth Fox Terrier whelped in Canada and bred by Heidi Gervais is shown by Max Krainer, a native of Brazil, and is owned by Victor Malzoni and Amy Booth. He is many generations of top-winning Broxden Smooths.

Dana Cline, who might be the youngest judge to have done BIS at the AKC show, had a stellar final. Dana is considered by his peers to be as good a judge as we have today. Not only being a great judge, Dana is also a great mentor. He has taught so many of us so much. Personally, Dana and Bill Shelton are the two best I have ever done an in-ring observation with. Exhibitors are all greatly pleased when they win under Dana. We have to realize all judges have opinions, but some opinions are just taken while others are greatly respected. My first Best in Show 46 years ago was under Bill Kendrick, the greatest teacher of dogs ever. I certainly will always cherish the win.

You could have heard a pin drop when Dana went to mark the book. Everyone was guessing different dogs. When he pointed to the German Wirehaired Pointer, GChS Heywire N Deep Harbor Love That Dirty Water CD JH AX OAJ NF for Reserve, the crowd cheered. It seemed so long until he pointed to the Giant as BIS. Everyone was so happy for the Giant’s whole team. The Giant was co-bred by the late Maryann Bisceglia. She also bred “Ty,” the record-breaking Giant that won the Working Group in 2019.

Normally, the “Breeder of the Year” is announced before Best. This year it was delayed because David Fitzpatrick was the winner, and the committee felt that since he was competing for BIS that it was best to announce it right after.

Show chairman Dennis B. Sprung and assistant chair Jason W. Taylor had a great show-planning committee. Michael Canalizo is the event coordinator. Paula Spector is responsible for judges’ hospitality and has the endless job of hotel and travel. The committee works on all the details constantly, all year round.

When Ron Menaker came up with the concept of the AKC show, none of us every dreamed of what this would eventually become. I am sure many, many feel it is the greatest week that we have in the sport. People are anxiously waiting to see the panel for 2022. Many will be getting their hopes up for a big win under the top judges.



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