The author congratulates Best in Show-winning breeder-owner-handler David Fitzpatrick. Photo by Christina Frausini, courtesy Westminster Kennel Club.
Sat, 06/26/2021 - 7:45pm

Westminster: There’s Only One!

Best in Show judge and Dog News columnist Pat Craig-Trotter reflects on the appointment of a lifetime

If ever there was a dog show that truly represented its motto, “There’s only one,” the iconic 2021 Westminster Kennel Club event was IT! No one could possibly have imagined the club would recreate “the Garden” upon moving outdoors and away from Manhattan. In typical WKC fashion, its members and staff achieved this Herculean task at the historic Lyndhurst “Garden Spot” in Westchester County. The entire experience was more like a fairy tale than real life. Westminster had continued its tradition for the 145th consecutive time, in spite of all odds revolving around the pandemic.

It’s no secret that this writer had dreamed and worked toward winning Westminster since childhood, just as every other breeder/exhibitor does. I never dared to dream of judging it, and as I stepped into the huge replica of THE Garden, it took my breath away. Even with the COVID-limited crowd, the venue seemed the same ring we’ve always known in the “Big Apple.” The huge tented replica of the Garden was not only spacious, it was also staged just as the arena on Seventh Avenue at Penn Plaza. To show co-chairmen David Helming and David Haddock, club president Charlton Reynders III (fondly known as Chat), their Westminster teammates and Fox goes the gratitude of all of us in the world of dogs delighted to have a return to normalcy – courtesy of WKC.


The big reveal from left: Show chairs David Helming and David Haddock, Best in Show judge Patricia Craige-Trotter and Westminster Kennel Club president Chat Reynders. Photo by Christina Frausini, courtesy Westminster Kennel Club.


Even the weather gods favored Westminster this year, with dog-friendly weather for the outdoor breed judging during the daylight hours. It was cool and pleasant for the dogs even though only a few days earlier temperatures had soared to uncomfortable heights as construction personnel toiled away with preparations for the show. The beautiful Lyndhurst estate was turned into a great venue for this eventful and dramatic weekend.

David Fitzpatrick and "Wasabi" (GCh. Pequest Wasabi), the 2021 Westminster Best in Show winner. Photo by Jack Grassa, courtesy of the Westminster Kennel Club.


Dog fanciers from all over enjoyed the tours of the grounds and the mansion, gasping in wonder at the beautiful and huge silver challenge trophies on display that had been won by various canine occupants of Lyndhurst since the late 1800s as well as the architectural wonders of the mansion itself. Originally built by railroad tycoon Jay Gould, Lyndhurst once housed spacious kennels for the dogs and stables for the horses – all as aristocratic as the humans who loved them. Usually open for tours, the Greek Revival structure was closed to the public during Westminster’s stay there. To enter the property all participants had to have clearance regarding COVID and attendance was limited to participants only, as spectators were not allowed. Perhaps it was the greatest private party any of us have ever experienced.

Fortunately for my husband and I, we did not have to stay sequestered in our room, as Chuck’s son had rented a car, allowing us to go to the renowned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Made famous by author Washington Irving, who is himself buried there, it was so named to allow those who desired to sleep quietly in their graves a peaceful hereafter. The list of famous names buried there is remarkable, from Andrew Carnegie to Elizabeth Arden, the Rockefellers to Chrysler. The magnificence of the cemetery includes monuments to Revolutionary and Civil War veterans as well as the New York Guard. Sleepy Hollow is an awesome experience.

Because I could not actually go to the show before BIS, I am dependent on others to report that they were thrilled at everything about the show –spacious rings for the dogs, the breathtaking view of the Hudson River, the vegetation and greenery abundant on the more than 60 acres and the ambience of the estate. Exhibitors felt blessed that their entries had made it in time as it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

My assignment of judging BIS was exhilarating; at the same time, it was a huge responsibility. As the seven dogs entered the ring one at a time, I realized that several of them were from families in their breed that were familiar to me from previous years. In essence, I had known their ancestors and relatives. What a tribute to the breeders, owners, conditioners and handlers of each exhibit. Many of those handling the dogs wore all of those hats!

Each of the seven dogs performed like the champions that they are – both standing and on the move. It was the first time I had judged “the little lion,” and he could not be denied. The hands-on examination presented the desired pear-shaped body structure under the luxurious mane and correct coat with a strong Pekingese front and proper distribution of weight. The profile was accentuated by a high tail set completing the proper picture for the breed. In true Oriental fashion reminiscent of his ancient heritage, Ch. Pequest Wasabi handled himself with the dignity befitting his breed. No wonder Chinese royalty tracing back to the Tang Dynasty so treasured the Pekingese that they honored the little dogs at court. In my humble opinion, he was a worthy winner of BIS.


Wasabi looks perfectly at home in the spotlight, and for good reason: His kind have been lavished with attention in the imperial palaces of China for untold centuries.


RBIS went to the record-breaking Whippet bitch GCh. Pinnacle Kentucky Bourbon. I had not judged her since before the pandemic, and she hadn’t missed a beat. Elegant and curvaceous as ever, her profile displays both topline and underline in perfect symmetry. She is an extraordinary bitch returning to the ring in fine form after whelping her first litter three months earlier. Her movement covered the maximum amount of ground with the minimum amount of lost motion as described in the breed standard.


Breeder-owner-handler Cheslie Pickett-Smithey gaits "Bourbon" (Ch. Pinnacle Kentucky Bourbon). The Whippet was Reserve Best in Show, an honor she has garnered at Westminster for two years running. Photo by Christina Frausini, courtesy Westminster Kennel Club.


It was a delightful BIS final much appreciated by the limited crowd as well as the adjudicator. Each had passed through two expert judges in the breed and group before entering the BIS ring. All seven moved around the ring covering ground and gaiting appropriately for their breed. They were also of solid temperament and correct character typical of each breed. Sincere thanks to the breeders whose passion for their breeds for generations made all seven of them possible. Kudos also go to those who conditioned them and brought them to the fancy in such good form. The teams of breeders, owners and handlers who worked hard during the pandemic deserve all the credit in the world.

And again, the “show must go on” dedication of all involved with the Westminster Kennel Club should inspire each of us to persevere through difficult times. These “movers and shakers” truly created a classic show for the ages.  I will always be thankful they allowed me to be part of this magnificent 145th-anniversary show.



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