Fri, 05/03/2024 - 7:43pm

‘The Greatest Lab Show in the World’

This year’s Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac show again lived up to that billing

There are many, many reasons why the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac’s annual show — held earlier this month on April 9 to 12 — is the most unique in the world. Mainly it is a regional specialty that is always two or three times larger than the parent-club specialty.

The Lab breed is very split in that the parent club is dominated by field people. There are only a few conformation people on the board of the parent club. Much to the chagrin of the conformation breeders, the parent club revised the standard a few years back. The main bone of contention is the size disqualification. The conformation dogs tend to be much smaller and heavier built. The field people want a much racier dog with a lot of speed in the field. If you look at the photos on the parent-club website, you will see they are quite different from what we see at shows. Yet some of our very best show dogs have working titles. Some AKC judges who really don’t have a handle on the breed think that the quality dogs cannot do what they were bred to do. The dog that just broke the record for the most specialty wins has working titles. It is very sad that many judges feel our top dogs cannot do what they were bred to do.

The parent-club national cannot be judged by a breeder-judge unless he or she can judge other Sporting breeds. This eliminates most of the top respected breeder-judges.



Close to 50 years ago, a group of Lab breeders formed the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac with the dream of making a great show for Labs. Lisa Weiss, Beth Sweigart and Betty Graham are the only surviving founding members. Beth and Lisa are still breeding top Labs.

Over the years the show kept growing, to the point that it outgrew several venues. The Clarion Inn at the Frederick Event Center is not a top-notch hotel, but it has a huge grass area. The show requires a huge field to accommodate three very large rings for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which are constantly running all day. On Friday, the three rings are opened up to make one huge ring for the Best of Breed judging.

On Monday there are two match shows held simultaneously on a separate grass area so they do not put stress on the turf for the regular rings. Match shows offer experience for young dogs that have never been shown before. The match show had two top foreign breeder-judges: Leslie Parks from Scotland and Kaca Kacian from Croatia. What other club would hire foreign judges for match shows?



Stacey Parsons judged 87 sweeps males plus 16 Veteran sweeps males. Liz Martin judged 95 sweeps bitches, plus 46 Veteran sweeps bitches. This was a total of 244 dogs shown in the sweepstakes. Both Liz and Stacey have been top breeders. In 2012, the BOB winner was Ch. Clearcreek Bonaventure Windjammer, bred by Liz.

For the regular classes, it is always foreign judges. BOB is always judged by an American breeder. Having foreign judges for the classes ensures that nobody can predict what they will do. This year, Lena Wiberg-Johansson judged the dog classes. She has been a very famous breeder in Sweden, but does not have a license to judge in her country. She was approved by AKC being an expert on the breed. When I was in Chile in January 2022 at a major show, my BIS winner was a black dog bred by Lena. He is sired by an American-bred dog of Deb Weinman. The sire was living in Poland. The dog I judged in Chile can win in the toughest competition anywhere in the world today. Lena had 156 class males.



Richard Stafford of the U.K. judged the bitch classes. Richard has bred dogs that have done big, big winning in the U.K. He had 240 class bitches to judge.

Beth Sweigart had 57 male champions and 45 bitch specials for a total of 102. All the champions came into the ring one by one and struck a pose in the middle of the ring. This gave Beth a chance to see the overall depth of the class. When it was time to start judging, there were seven groups of 15.


Paula Nykiel.


After all the groups were judged, Beth had a huge number of Labs that made the first cut. Then it became a very difficult chore to whittle it down to a final cut. After Select Dog and Bitch, she had 18 AOMs to award to dogs she felt were outstanding. I certainly did not envy her the very difficult decisions to be made. Many, many outstanding Labs did not make the final cut. Her final winner was GCh. Lakeside Memoir of Gallivant, known to the Lab world as “Memo.” He came out of the Veteran Dog class judged by Paula Nykiel, who judged all the non-regular classes. It was a very sentimental win for “Memo,” since he had not been in the ring since Potomac in 2019, when he also went BOB. His breeder Jared Frasher was there to share in the great victory.



Jared and his partner Haley also won the entire puppy sweeps.

What makes Potomac so unique is it has classes and special attractions not offered at most specialties. Specialties sometimes offer Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes, but at Potomac they are a big feature of the show. Challenge trophies are exceptional works of art. Even dogs from foreign countries are often entered in the Stud Dog class. I judged the Stud Dog class last year, and it was an extremely challenging assignment. There is a Generations class in which you have three generations competing. The Hunt and Field classes are filled with top dogs that have field titles. As mentioned previously, too many judges, sorry to say, do not realize that the beautiful, typey Labs can do the work they were bred to do. Five of the dogs entered in the Top 20 had working titles behind their names.



Last year, right before the schedule was printed, it was decided to have an International Competition. This year I believe the entry was 14. Visiting dogs who competed were from Equador, the Netherlands, Poland, two from Spain, several from Mexico and several from Canada. A stunning black bitch won the competition. The yellow dog from the Netherlands was BOS. This very exciting dog had just been crowned Dog of the Year in the Netherlands, where 150 top dogs competed. He has won major shows all over Europe. The BOB and BOS were awarded beautiful globes and some cash. Next there will be a challenge trophy for the event. I believe no other single-breed show in the world offers an International Competition.

The Top 20 is done differently that most others. The dogs are prejudged the evening before the gala event. At the gala, each dog is brought in with its own song and music, and the handlers are in a themed costume. It makes for a very entertaining event.

I believe this is the only event that has an auction for stud dogs. People offer a stud service, and besides live studs, some offer frozen semen on deceased dogs. The bidding can run high on great sires of the past. One stud was bid up to $5,000. It is always a huge money maker, and I believe this year $28,000 was raised.

AKC.TV films it live all four days, and on Tuesday through Thursday all the rings have cameramen. This makes for a large expense to the AKC. Thousands of people worldwide get to watch Potomac live. Each year many foreigners come to Potomac just to watch the greatest Lab show in the world. I believe Potomac is the show with the most depth of quality anywhere. If you make the cut in any class, you get a pin saying, “Made the Cut.” It means so much to anyone who makes the cut in any class.



Potomac is certainly known for being unique, and a truly original adventure was put into play this year. The parent club offers judges education, and students and aspiring judges can get a basic understanding to help with their approval process. Like most shows, the students never come back again to expand their knowledge. Besides the breed being split between the field and conformation people, there is somewhat of a split in the show world. Many of the top breeders basically show to breeder-judges at specialties and rarely at all-breed shows. Then you have a lot of people who show at the all-breed shows to the all-rounder type judges.

About a year ago, a group of breeders came up with a list of non-breeder judges they feel understand and judge the breed well. They only came up with 18 names out of the 218 who can do the whole Sporting Group. This amounts to only 8 percent of Sporting Group judges who they think are really good.

Lisa Weiss, Heidi Booth and I came up with something I do not think has ever been done before anywhere. We decided we would invite some judges who have shown that they do a very nice job judging the breed. We had seen them judge several times, and they demonstrated they had a good understanding of correct type. We asked them to come as guests to the Top 20 and hopefully sit ringside with some of the top breeders. We only had six people who could attend this tutorial this year. Many wanted to join us, but had judging assignments elsewhere. Already we have a wonderful list of judges who have kept their calendars clear for next year. At the last minute we named it the Roundtable. We are in the process of coming up with a more descriptive name.

Basically, the mentees would sit with a mentor for a period, then we would get someone else to sit with them, and after a while someone else. During the course of the day, they would have sat with three or four mentors. All the mentors said how much they enjoyed the experience. The aim was to take very good judges and make them better judges of the breed. All the mentees are judges who are continuous students. To be a really good judge of any breed, I feel you have to have a passion for the breed and be a continuous student of it. Lisa, Heidi and I were pleased with how well the program went, and we will make it even better next year.



When the parent club learned of our project, they were concerned we were trying to do judges ed. We explained that instead, we were helping good judges in their continued effort to advance their knowledge of the breed.

I have tried to explain why Potomac is the most unique show of any. But I think one has to witness it to get the real feeling of why it is so unique. I am surprised that some parent clubs have not picked up on some of the unique events Potomac does.

It takes an army to stage Potomac. There is a total of 40 different committees and a huge event committee. The fund-raising committee has to be congratulated on raising enough money to not only stage the show but actually make a small profit.

The conformation judging at Potomac requires eight judges. This becomes very costly, since even the two foreign judges for the two match shows get all their expenses paid. The combined years of experience of these judges account for centuries and centuries of experience.

Special thanks to Penny Kretchmer, who is not only in charge of the grounds but also heads up RV parking and car parking. People leave and forget to leave the cone in their reserved spot, only to return and find someone parked there. They immediately go to Penny and think she can wave a “magic wand” to remove the non-legal parked car. Penny arrives at the venue about four or five days before the show to start to arrange the layout and the parking slots. It is a long week of trying to help people with their wants, not their needs. I am sure Penny will say Potomac is much harder than the all-breed shows she manages.

Purina is a major sponsor financially, and gives out beautiful tote bags with the Potomac logo. Many individuals also help sponsor the different events. It costs well over $100,00 to stage this magnificent show.

Plans are underway for next year, and each year it gets better and better. The dates will be April 8 through 11, 2025. BWI, Dulles and Reagan airports are all about a 45-minute drive to Frederick, Maryland. Frederick is a very lovely town with wonderful restaurants and very nice shops with all kinds of stuff. It is also cherry-blossom time.



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