The Crufts Best in Show Lagotto.
Fri, 03/24/2023 - 5:14am

Snow Business Like Show Business!

Vince Hogan gives the UK perspective on "the world's greatest dog show"

Having attended nigh on 50 years of Crufts Dog Show, both in London’s Olympia and Earls Court venues, and now Birmingham’s NEC, I’ve seen all sorts of weather for exhibitors and dogs to contend with. While U.K. snow cannot compare with New York and Westminster in February (sometimes!), nobody expected the two-day blizzards that hit parts of the U.K. — and especially around the National Exhibition Centre complex for the set-up day and start of “the greatest dog show on earth”!


Snow for Crufts meant two days of disruption.


Notwithstanding the vagaries of the British weather, we then had four momentous days at Birmingham’s NEC complex. After fighting rain and snow, a new Crufts Best in Show winner was crowned as “Orca” (Am GCh Kan Trace Very Cheeky Chic), a Lagotto Romagnolo, took home the coveted title all the way to Croatia for co-owners Sabina Zdunić Šinković and Ante Lucin … yes, the same well-known social media host Ante Lucin, who also heads up the organization of Europe’s famous “Four Summer Night Shows Split” with an emperor, Roman soldiers and all! Ask Desi Murphy all about that one.

In front of a packed Resorts World Arena at the Birmingham NEC complex, 4-year-old Orca, handled by top handler Javier Gonzalez Mendikote from Spain, was loudly cheered on as they were selected by the BIS judge Stuart Mallard.


Crufts Best in Show on the move.




Co-owner Sabina produced a photo of Orca as a very young puppy, and her markings immediately earned her the nickname of Orca … after the whale of the same name!

This is the first time a Lagotto Romagnolo has won Crufts; the breed is a relatively new one in this country, but from the moment Orca won the Gundog Group on Thursday, she was many people’s favorite to take the top spot. So not only was it a proud moment for Croatia with Sabina and Ante, but also for Italy and Greece with the co-ownership of the Reserve BIS-winning Old English Sheepdog, Nikolas Kanales (Greece) and Matteo Autolitano (Italy). And an Italian breed taking top spot as well.

In fact, the overseas influence and impact of exhibitors from all over the world, including Best of Breed winners owned by Americans, was felt strongly again this year as the crowds flocked to the U.K. now that fears caused by the pandemic have receded.

One such winner from the U.S. was Italian Greyhound exhibitor Lynn Partridge from South Carolina, who told me, “Most all serious American dog-show people put Crufts on their ‘bucket list’ as a once-in-a-lifetime trip, either to show or just watch. My first time there was extra special because my best friend and I were both representing Italian Greyhounds from North America (mine is the number-one IG in America, hers is number one in Canada), and they are father and daughter. Eighty-two Italian Greyhounds were entered. Her boy won the Dog Challenge, then my girl won the Bitch Challenge to go head to head for Best of Breed. What a thrill! I just flew home, and I'm already hoping to compete next year with a different dog. Going to Crufts once in a lifetime just isn't enough for me.”

Says it all, really, despite the costs and effort to get to Britain in early March!

Past Best in Show winner from America, Rebecca Cross, added: “The show was amazing as always. We managed to win the breed in Scotties, third-generation BOB winner, son of Bopper and grandson of Betsy, who was Knopas’ sister, pretty cool history lesson. My thanks especially to the club committee and stewards for going out of their way to make sure we made it to the group ring when we thought we might not make it in time due to our late finish!”


HOGAN Regular Crufts visitor Rebecca Cross poses with famous handlers and judges Michael Coad and Geoff Corish, a previous Crufts BIS judge.


Nice to see Beth Sweigart with Peter Green over the four days as well.




More than 19,000 dogs from around the world competed (in the show breed/show section) as Crufts bounced back after the lean years of the pandemic. Don’t forget of course that you have to qualify for Crufts, so that makes the entry that much more amazing! Many people on social media commented that they thought this year’s line-up of the final seven dogs was exceptional.


Hound Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


The other six group winners were a Doberman from the U.K.; “Blondie,” the Reserve BIS Old English Sheepdog from Greece/Italy; a Wire Fox Terrier from Germany again underlining the international impact; “Paris” the Irish Wolfhound from the U.K.; “Jake,” a top-winning Standard Poodle from England, and “Dublin,” Cavalier King Charles Spaniel also from the U.K., making for quite a cosmopolitan line-up!


Gundog Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


Pastoral Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


Terrier Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


Toy Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


Utility Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


Working Group winner. Photo: Paul Scanlon.


Add in the agility and obedience dogs, gamekeepers’ classes, Scruffts, Junior Handling (showmanship) and many others, and the total entry shoots up to around 24,000 … that’s a heck of a lot of dogs and organization in four days!

This year there was a special touch as the impressive Best in Show trophy was presented on Sunday night by outgoing organizer and Crufts show manager the popular Vanessa McAlpine, who has been part of the Crufts and Kennel Club team for more than 40 years, but who retired after this show.


Vanessa McAlpine, longstanding Crufts show manager who retired after 40-plus years at the Kennel Club, with main ring director Nick Brooks Ward and Crufts committee chairman Tom Mather.


Vanessa said at the time: “Tonight’s final has been a fantastic way to end another triumphant year for Crufts. Well done to all of our wonderful finalists. The dogs, their owners and handlers should be incredibly proud to get through to such a prestigious final – it really is a special achievement”




Well, where do you begin at Crufts? There are five huge halls plus the main arena for the groups. 

Despite the snow and weather issues, record crowds of 155,000 people attended the show. Apart from the breed judging, you have all canine disciplines represented, and there seems to be action of some kind going on all day long until the groups start around 6:30 each night.


The aisles around the trade booths were bustling every day.


The TV coverage in the U.K. had its usual mixed reception, with exhibitors disappointed that the main TV channel did not show enough of the breed judging, but others saying that the show has a wider appeal for the mass audience and helps promote pedigree dogs and responsible ownership. The Kennel Club does have its own YouTube channel, and most group judging could be seen there, racking up more than 12 million views by the end of the show, according to show chairman Tom Mather.

The trade stands/booths seemed busy, and as you might imagine, Crufts is a dog shopper’s emporium of delights … There are literally hundreds of booths both large and small, selling a massive range of canine-associated products. Some of the big stands were in Hall 3, the home for most of the partners/supporters of the show; they all seemed to have a hectic time!


The painting of the 2022 Best in Show-winning Flat-Coat with artist Ann Zoutsos and Crufts chairman Tom Mather.


Helen Blyde, head of marketing at Eukanuba in the U.K., said, “It was great to once again be back at Crufts and to welcome so many new and existing breeders onto our stand.”

Charles Allen of Birdbrook Rosettes added, “What a busy show for Birdbrook — some days we could hardly keep up with demand! See you again next year.”

Hayley Sealy McCallum from dog-food company James Wellbeloved (part of the Mars group) added, “Congratulations to our all our James Wellbeloved Breeder Club members on their successes at Crufts 2023! It was great to see so many of you, and we loved welcoming some many new members too. Thank you for celebrating being at Crufts with us!”




Emotion takes over at BIS for Ante Lucin, co-owner of the winning Lagotto.


Orca's delighted co-owner Ante said after the win: “This is the first Lagotto Romagnolo to win at Crufts, so this is so great for the breed — we never expected anything like this!

"We know she is a little superstar, but this is beyond all expectations. I was crying too much watching from the seats; it was very emotional!

"Orca is everything you could ever want in a dog. She is happy and healthy — and as everybody saw, her tail never stops wagging!"

The Reserve Best in Show was won by the Old English Sheepdog “Blondie,” who was handled, bred and co-owned by Matteo Autolitano from Italy together with long time OES stalwart Nikolas Kanales from Greece, and supported by friends from as far away as New Zealand on the day.

I managed to catch up with Team Blondie, who were on a ferry from Ancona back to Greece on Tuesday afternoon after the show! Nikolas Kanales was still so happy and full of pride and emotion for the win … and full of praise for the whole team.

“When I saw the dog in the breed, I thought ... Wow!” Nik told me. “She moved so well for Matteo, who clicked with her the moment they met! At first, I was not confident, but seeing her on the move I thought it would take a lot to beat her. So did our wonderful breed judge Miss Michela Hall, who was full of tears of happiness.

“I was also so impressed by the group judge Mrs. Rene Spores Willes from Sweden for her superb way of judging, and so pleased for that record-breaking win of RBIS at Crufts under Mr. Stuart Mallard!

“It takes a village to get to this stage! Many thanks to all the team at Crufts for the support, grooming, handling of Blondie. It was Louisa’s and Angelo’s first time at Crufts, and Rob and Carol came all the way from New Zealand. We are all overwhelmed by the hundreds of congratulating messages and the honest ‘global support’ for Blondie.

“I am so grateful for all … tired and still 24 hours from home, but what a trip!”


The press pack at BIS photo time.




Final words go to the co-owners of Orca, who, like “Baxer” the Flat-Coated Retriever in 2022, has proved such a popular and universally liked Crufts BIS winner, together with their dedicated and popular handlers. Orca had a great career in the U.S. with Phil Booth and recently won the Champion of Champions in Hungary (Fehova show).

“It was a long 24 hours ... lots of emotions going on ... lots of thoughts and memories passing through my head,” Sabina Zdunić Šinković in Croatia said. “What words can describe this moment? Hard to say. Orca is the jewel in the crown of many years of my successful breeding career. She was born for great things ... she was like this from her puppy age walking through my garden ... such cheeky little stuff with such a grace in her. She was my keeper puppy from the very beginning. Her career started at her tender age of four months and she was taking show rings by storm. She was always one step in front of any of my dreams: What to do with dog like this? Only to offer her the best possible chances to prove herself what she always embraced with joy and happiness.

“Five years of her life passed in a blink of the eye ... and here she is ... crowned with the most prestigious crown she could get ... Crufts Best in Show! Wow ... no better words than that sound! I would like to thank my family for the support they give me and sacrifices they made for our dogs. I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart all my show team of amazing people who worked hard with Orca.

“Thank you to all the people for the beautiful words of support and sincere happiness for the result that this little happy girl achieved.”


Celebration time for team Blondie the OES Reserve BIS at Crufts.





Next, co-owner Ante Lucin, speaking exclusively to OUR DOGS while en route back to Croatia, told me:

“Even if we are still almost 900 kilometers from home, and both my body and brain are dead, I want to say some words about our experience at Crufts this year.

“Maybe unlike other doggie people I never even dared to dream that one day my dog would win Best in Show at Crufts. It was something that always seemed just unreal to me. Last year I said to everyone that never again in my life I will go to Crufts by car, but as usual, I changed my mind, and what a great decision it was!

“Crufts 2023 has produced for me emotions I never even knew existed in my body.

“I want to thank all the hard-working members of The Kennel Club and Crufts committee for treating Orca, Javier, myself and all our friends like a royalty since the moment we won the Gundog group on Thursday. Specially I want to thank two lovely ladies, Sara Wilde and Sue Sampson, for being the most amazing hosts we could ask for.

“I want to thank the judges, Mrs. Hollings, Mr. Haran and Mr. Mallard for making history for the breed and for my small Croatia. Orca gave her heart and made such a great promotion for the healthy and happy show dogs that we celebrate year after year at Crufts.

“To everyone in the arena, to everyone who cried with me, to all the known and unknown people who sent us millions of messages — I could never thank you enough for your kind words and support. And at the end to my family and close friends — nothing of this would be possible without you! And even if this is an amazing thing for so many of us, especially for my friend Natalija, who brought the first Lagottos to Croatia in 2000 and chose me to be her handler and later co-owner of the Kan Trace kennel. To Orca’s fabulous breeder and owner Sabina, who took over Kan Trace Lagottos some 15 years ago, continued our work with the breed and proved to be one of the most talented and smartest breeders of our times and who has let me be a co-owner of this little superstar. It makes me the happiest person in the world that Orca won Best in Show at Crufts in the hands of Javier — the most talented, the most dedicated and the most passionate person I ever met in the world of dogs and the best friend one could ask for! Nobody deserved it more than you and I am proud to have you in my life. (Even if you are impossible sometimes.)”


All 7,000 seats at the main ring were sold out for Best in Show.


What more can you say? A stunning line-up is the phrase ringing around social media and a very popular winner!

So, Crufts was back with a bang despite the snow doing its best to blanket Birmingham in “the white stuff” for two or three days. And despite the sore feet and not enough sleep, we will all aim to be back in Birmingham, U.K., in March 2024!


Crufts Best in Show Judge’s Official Critique


My heartfelt gratitude to the Crufts Committee for honouring me with the chance to fulfil this once in a lifetime opportunity. The Kennel Club celebrating its 150th anniversary made the appointment even more special and I’ve looked forward to the day with great anticipation

Crufts is the greatest shop window for dogs, in particular pedigree dogs. I feel privileged to be a part of such a wonderful canine celebration.

The seven dogs that swept away rivals in their relevant groups needed to be at the top of their game and fit for function. Exuding breed type without being exaggerated, totally honest, of sound character and in optimum condition. In other words, breed specific, showcasing the dedication and nurturing required by their knowledgeable dedicated breeders. Happy and enjoying their moment of glory.

The seven dogs vying for top spot in this contest met all the above criteria. Wholehearted thanks to the breed and group judges for sending through truly worthy breed representatives and group winners. 

To witness seven outstanding breed representatives at one with their caring handlers almost made me emotional. I felt all would have been worthy winners of this coveted award. They were: Zdunic Sinkovic & Lucin, Am GCh. Kan Trace Very Cheeky Chic, Lagotto Romagnolo; Everley & Hughes, Ch. Manzart Wise Guy, Dobermann; Kanales, Grh Cr Ch. Airzeppeline Delia, Old English Sheepdog; Schoenberg, Ch. Blanc VD Schoenen Bergen, Terrier (Wire Fox); Amoo, Ch. Sade Paris; Irish Wolfhound; Langdon, Ch. Huffish Rewrite The Stars With Atastar, Std Poodle, and Chapman & Ireland, Ellemich American Express, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

I don’t pretend to be a renowned Lagotto authority. However, she was harmoniously balanced and in athletic condition, which was so obvious to see in her fluent movement and poise. In tip top condition with thick ring-shaped curls well distributed. Her demeanour and connection with her handler were a joy to behold. She never once stopped wagging her tail, a great ambassador for pedigree dogs and the public. So relaxed she conveyed personality plus. I simply loved her and followed my heart. My reasons for having no hesitation in awarding her Best in Show at the world’s greatest dog show.

I have witnessed the demise of my beloved breed “the Old English Sheepdog” over time so how heartening it was to witness this lady in the line-up, a British breed through and through. Compact she is classic in outline and pure in construction with strength to well laid out head carried with dignity on a gently arched neck with good reach. So feminine but with strength and substance.  Harsh coat so beautifully presented in a natural fashion. For me it was almost like stepping back in time. Sound and conveying totally typical action with head slightly lowered.  A true credit to this lovely breed. A most worthy Reserve Best in Show winner. — Judge Stuart J. Mallard



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