All photos: Getty Images for the Westminster Kennel Club
Fri, 06/14/2024 - 9:37pm

The Magic of Westminster

Desi Murphy reports on the show we love to love

There is no way one can fully express with the written word the “magic” of Westminster. The only other show that has that magical feeling is Crufts. For Terrier fanciers, Montgomery County also has the same atmosphere. Westminster is the show that even the general public is familiar with. So many people in the sport today became involved after seeing Westminster on TV. It is so special to exhibitors, breeders, handlers, judges and anyone involved in the sport.

This year’s show, held on Monday and Tuesday, May 13 and 14, was the club’s 148th annual show. It is the second-oldest sporting event in the U.S.; only the Kentucky Derby is older by one year.

Westminster was one of the few show that was still able to be held during Covid. In 2021, there was no way the show could be held in New York City, so it was moved to an outdoor venue at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York, which was home for many years to Tuxedo Park and Westchester. To create the magical feeling, a beautiful tent was constructed to look like the floor of Madison Square Garden. We were extremely lucky with the weather both years at Lyndhurst.



In 2023 and this year, Westminster moved to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. It is a beautiful location, and Toys and Terriers were able to be judged in the inside arena, where the groups were also judged. People who do not live in this area do not realize that the weather could be a disaster to the point that the show could be cancelled! Twice at Lyndhurst, the Tuxedo Park show had to be cancelled. The area surrounding the tennis center has had severe floods often. Just recently the new terminal at LaGuardia Airport was under water, and cars at the Tennis Center were washed away. Huge blizzards have hit many, many times on Westminster weekend, but being indoors the show never had to cancel. That is why the committee for four years has been desperately searching to get the show indoors again. Also this year’s dates were the same time that many different breeds were holding their nationals.



Hopefully by the time you are reading this, Westminster will have made its statement about the details for 2025. It is not a secret: We will be back to the February dates, with breed judging at the Javits Center and the groups back at Madison Square Garden. This will be welcomed by everyone. New York City is a magical place for everything! The city offers everything anybody could want or need. Yes, out at the Tennis Center most of us ventured into Manhattan for fine dining, theater, shopping and museums, but all of us had the extra effort of fighting traffic and costly Uber trips.

One big change going to back to the city will be the hotel accommodations. Two of the three most-used hotels near the Garden are gone. The Hotel Pennsylvania is totally gone. The Stewart is being made into apartments. Personally, I always enjoyed staying at the Stewart: In the building was a bar and restaurant called Niles, where we often had lunch and spent long, long nights in the bar. The very popular New Yorker is going to be home for a large percentage of exhibitors. I understand that Progressive Dog Club will be holding two shows before Westminster there. Besides the New Yorker, there are a lot of new boutique hotels in the area, and I believe many are pet friendly. Most people will never realize the great lengths to which Westminster has gone to get the show back to the city.

This was my 66th consecutive Garden. I still remember watching my father win the Hound Group in 1958 with Ch. Laguna Lucky Lad, the first Whippet to win the group at the Garden. Each year has always brought great emotional memories of the Garden. This year was my first time judging at the Garden. I had been asked for 2023, but due to conflicts I could not accept the assignment. It is a great honor to be invited to judge at the Garden — many will say the highlight of their career. I very much enjoyed my assignment, with just one exception: I was not able to see the Labrador judging.

Having fairly light assignments, I did get to watch a lot of interesting breeds each day. The competition in so many breeds was exceptionally strong. I have to admit I judged two breeds that lacked depth of quality. This is probably due to the limit, and some very good ones not getting in. This past weekend at a local show a lady in the Owner-Handled group put a lovely dog up on the table. I said to her, “I pray that I did not miss this one at Westminster.” She told me her entry did not get in. It would have been my easy, easy Best of Breed winner.

Between the two days, I had an entry of 94, but 25 were absent, which made for a 27 percent absentee rate. Many enter to get the dog’s name in the catalog, or to get the tickets. Probably a few enter in case of a change of judge. The only change of judge this year was for four Toy breeds when a judge had to be deleted. Hopefully after the first year of breed judging at the Javits Center it will show that the entry can be increased to allow more entries comfortably. It would be great if we could allow class dogs again. Just a few years ago we saw the Old English from the Bugaboo kennel go Reserve Best in Show from the classes.

All the groups were super strong. I felt sorry that the judges had to make severe cuts in all the groups. Because of the great depth of quality, some of the top dogs of their group did not place or even make the cut in the group. Several of the group judges spoke about not being able to pull very good dogs. Exhibitors and handlers do not realize how bad judges feel when we cannot pull a dog in the group that we greatly admire. The Garden reminds us that we have so many really top-quality dogs in the States. The line-up for Best in Show at the World Dog Show was super strong. But most of the groups did not have the great depth as did the groups at Westminster. Often at the average small shows we see very, very little quality in the classes, but have some nice specials, and even at the smallest shows the BIS line-up is full of top dogs. Just the other day at a small show for BIS, I had six dogs I felt were of exceptional quality.



With TV, live-streaming and social media, the entire world saw all the group results and a large portion of the breed judging.

David Kittridge had the honor of judging the Sporting Group. It was an extremely strong group. Many top dogs could not even be cut. The black-and-tan American Cocker shown by Per Rismyhr became the winner. David is a long-time Cocker breeder so we know how impressed he must have been with this Cocker, who has done tremendous winning. I and all the Labrador people were so excited to see the Lab place fourth in the group. This was only the second time I have seen a Lab place at the Garden. Labs were the largest entry in the show this year. Fabian Negron, who was awarded Best Owner-Handler-Breeder on Sunday at the Purina Pro Plan Show Dogs of the Year awards presented by Dog News had a record-breaking day at the breed level before the group placement. With the two Awards of Merit, that meant six ribbons to be given out. Of those six awards, four of them were won by Fabian and his team. This has to be some kind of record.

Christine Erickson had the very challenging assignment of the Hound Group. Again, many top dogs did not even make the cut. “Louie” the Afghan Hound became the first Afghan to win the group in 33 years. The last Afghan to have won the group was “Tryst” back in 1996.

Rick Gschwender judged the Working Group. His mind must have been racing just to make this cut. The Giant Schnauzer, who is currently the number-one all-breed dog in the country, repeated his win from last year. Back in 2018, his sire “Ty” also won the group at the Garden. “Ty” has also sired some other big winners.

Patricia Keenan is probably the only one of a daughter/mother team to have judged the Terrier Group at the Garden. Barbara Keenan was one of our foremost Terrier exhibitors and judges. Barbara won Best in Show at the Garden with her Westie “Simon” in 1962. Patty’s grandmother, Florence Worster, was also a famous Westie lady. Patty is three generations of great Terrier people. She has to be one of the youngest judges to judge a group at the Garden. It was very emotional for me to watch “Frankie” the Colored Bull Terrier. Everyone knows my great passion for the breed. A couple of years ago, I was the first non-breeder to judge the national, and Frankie was my Winners Bitch from the puppy class. Myself, Patty, Connie Clark, Peggy Beisel-Mcilwaine and Don Sturz are the only non-breeder judges who can awards ROM points. Sarah, her handler, was born into Bull Terriers but never handled the dogs until just a couple of years ago. It was the first time a Bull Terrier bitch ever placed at the Garden. She resides in Canada, and the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier that placed third is also owned and bred in Canada. Patty got her first win in Juniors under me when she was about 10.

Glen Lajeski had a star-studded Toy Group. Several top-quality dogs could not even make the cut. Luke and the Shih Tzu were number one all breed last year, and he went BIS at the AKC National Championship show last December. Again, Glen said he felt bad that some wonderful dogs could not make the cut.



Fred Bassett had a star-studded Non-Sporting Group to work through. Like the other groups, it was not easy to just make the cut. Kaz and “Sage” became the winners. This was the seventh time Kaz has won a group at the Garden. In 2002, Kaz went Best in Show with the Mini Ch. Surrey Spice Girl. I and many people whom I have the greatest respect for feel that Sage is the best Poodle Kaz has ever shown. I remember the first time I judged her, and saying to Kaz, “She feels as good as she looks!”

Michael Faulkner had such a wonderful group of Herding dogs. It was not easy to make the final cut. Kent Boyles and the German Shepherd “Mercedes” became the winner. She was number-one Herding dog last year. The three placements behind “Mercedes” were all wonderful examples of their breeds.

Rosalind Kramer stepped on stage to judge Best in Show, and we all were so taken by the beautiful dress she was wearing. It will always be memorable to all of us. Nobody is more deserving or qualified to judge this assignment. Roz has done it all in the sport. I cannot remember a Garden final in which six of the seven group winners were dogs I have given major wins and the seventh I greatly admire. Personally, I took the two winners to have perfect performances. If they let down just the slightest, they were not going Best or Reserve. This had to be the most challenging assignment ever for Roz. I certainly do not envy her. Reserve Best went to “Mercedes” the German Shepherd. It was agreed by all that she had a perfect performance and never let down for a second. When Roz said the Mini Poodle is Best, the crowd went wild. It was so emotional for so many people. After 45 years, this was the last show for Kaz. He has been respected and loved by all the greats in the sport. Kaz has brought such great joy to all of us for so many years and will be greatly missed at the shows.

The entire Westminster committee and ground crew have to be congratulated and thanked for a 99.9 percent perfect show. The judges’ dinner was a highlight of the long weekend. The setting and the food were so lovely. And the highlight of the dinner was Don Sturz as the emcee. He did such a beautiful and very emotional tribute to David Helming. It brought back so many, many great memories of David.

I enjoyed my judging assignment, but I also enjoyed getting to see some very competitive breeds being judged. For 2025, the Garden promises to be even better than ever.



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