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Originally published February 7, 2014 at 9:01 AM | Page modified February 10, 2014 at 10:22 AM

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Westminster dog show Q&A with expert Billy Wheeler: Expect the unexpected

Billy Wheeler, who writes a respected dog-show blog, talks with The Seattle Times in a Q&A about the 138th annual all-breed Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show to be held in New York on Monday and Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff

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Billy Wheeler writes about the dog-show world in his respected blog, www.dogshowpoop.blogspot.com. He talks with The Seattle Times in a Q&A about the 138th annual all-breed Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show to be held in New York on Monday and Tuesday.

More than 2,800 dogs are entered in conformation competition this year. Labrador retrievers, the most-registered American Kennel Club (AKC) breed every year since 1991, leads the way with 76 entries, followed by golden retrievers (58), French bulldogs (52), Rhodesian ridgebacks (46), and Australian shepherds (44). In breeds that combine three varieties, Dachshunds have 62 entries and poodles 42.

The entry includes three breeds newly recognized by the AKC: Portuguese Podengo Pequeno (eight entries, hound group), the Chinook (four, working group) and the rat terrier (20, terrier group).

There are also 91 entries in Junior Showmanship.

The first Masters Agility Championship at Westminster will take place Saturday at Pier 94 in Manhattan and feature dogs of all breeds and mixed-breed dogs (all American dogs).

Televised

Monday’s opening night of the competition will air from Madison Square Garden on CNBC, and Tuesday’s closing night will air on USA Network. Here’s how the two nights break down:

On Monday, the hounds, toys, nonsporting and herding groups will be televised on CNBC at 8-11 p.m. ET / 5-8 p.m. PT and will repeat from 8-11 p.m. PT as well.

On Tuesday, the sporting, working and terrier groups, followed by Best In Show will be shown on USA Network at 8-11 p.m. ET / 5-8 p.m. PT and will repeat from 8-11 p.m. PT as well.

For live results of each day’s competition and streaming videos of the judging, see the Westminster Kennel Club website.

Wheeler will be watching the show from his Memphis, Tenn., home this year and hosting an online chat on his website during the broadcasts with lots of information on the competitors.

Seattle Times: For all of those folks who don’t follow the dog-show scene but plan to tune in to Westminster, what makes this show so important and so special for exhibitors and dogs?

Wheeler: First of all, the Westminster Kennel Club show is the second-oldest continuously running sporting event in America, second only to the Kentucky Derby. It is the only dog show in the world to be live broadcast. It’s in New York, the media center of the world.

Q. How will this year’s show be different from past shows? They are adding agility competition this year. What does this bring to the event (aside from the obvious)?

A. Last year, after years of promoting the exclusive nature of participation at Westminster, the club returned to the old practice of including some class dogs, i.e. nonchampion dogs, in an attempt to be more inclusive.

This year for the first time ever, mixed breeds will be in the hall, in the agility competition.

The daytime judging will be at Piers 92/94 on Manhattan’s Westside for the second year, affording the public more access to the dogs than ever.

The club has added more chairs and giant TV screens at each ring to give everyone a great view of the ring. Those breeds judged on Pier 92 will be bathed in natural light allowing all the dogs to look their best.

The one worry is how the weather will affect people moving about Manhattan between the Piers and Madison Square Garden, where the evening, televised judging will be held.

Q. What should viewers at home be looking for this year? What key selections will you be looking at that could tip the balance in the finale?

A. Viewers should not forget that all of the breed judging can be viewed online. During the evening judging you only get to see your favorite breed for a few moments. I encourage everyone to watch the breed videos and see how carefully the judges go over each dog.

Every year people talk about the big upsets. However, when you watch the breed judging you get a better idea of why one dog won over another. Plus, it’s only in the breed that you get the opportunity to see each breeder’s interpretation of the breed standard by which the dogs are judged.

Q. There appear to be some clear favorites this year. That doesn’t mean they’ll win the big prize, but they do enter the race with impressive records. Let’s start with the herding group and Swagger, GCH CH Bugaboo’s Picture Perfect, an old English sheepdog who won the first Reserve Best in Show (RBIS) last year at the Garden as a young dog. He’s had a year to mature and has had a remarkable start this year, winning big at the Rose City Classic in Portland last month and may go into Westminster as the No. 1 dog in the country for 2014. Is he favored to take it all?

A. Swagger had a great 2013, finishing as the No. 1 herding dog, and this year has had the best start of any dog in recent memory, winning Best in Show (BIS) at both Palm Springs, Calif., and Portland, two of the biggest shows of the year.

However, he isn’t invulnerable. He was bested at AKC/Eukanuba National Championship (AENC) by 2013’s No. 4 herding dog, the German shepherd, GCH CH Wolf Creek’s Galaxy of Merivern. Judge Walter Sommerfelt put Swagger and Galaxy one/two when he saw them in Louisville, Ky., in March, but that was almost a year ago.

I also like the Puli, GCH CH Cordmaker Topsy Turvey, shown by Linda Pitts. Linda won back-to-back herding groups at Westminster with another Cordmaker puli, CH Cordmaker Field of Dreams, in 2009 and 2010.

Q: In the working group, there is Matisse, GCH CH Claircreek’s Impression de Matisse, a Portuguese water dog. He was the No. 2 dog last year and is the reigning winner of the AENC in Florida in December. He’s a breathtaking specimen. Can anyone get past him when he is on his game?

A. Matisse has been a furry juggernaut since winning in December. He finished 2013 with the highest percentage of wins, BIS in number of finals, of any dog in more than a decade. This year he has attended 16 shows, won 13 BIS, two RBIS, and one Group Two. The one dog that has bested him in the working group this year is the Akita, GCH CH CR-Wicca’s Trade Secret.

Matisse will have to contend with one ghost from Westminsters past. Last year’s working Group Two went to the fabulous Doberman pinscher bitch, FiFi, aka GCH CH Protocol’s Veni Vidi Vici. FiFi, who has 362,825 likes on her Facebook page, came out of retirement to do an Asian tour where she took six BIS. I am told that she has never looked better and is showing like she owns the world.

That being said, judge Clay Coady will have to measure the dog against the breed standard. The question is Matisse the best Portuguese water dog the judge has ever seen? I know a lot of people who would say yes. Will judge Coady think so? I’m not sure.

Q: The terriers have Sky, GCH CH AfterAll Painting the Sky. She was the No. 1 dog all breeds last year and the winner of the Eukanuba championship in 2012. She has an impressive record, but she has been competing for several years now. Might this work against her?

A. This will be Sky’s third Westminster. I don’t think that is out of the ordinary for a top show dog. Most of the past winners have made three trips to the Garden. I think people think she has been around longer because she has won so much ... but she has not won a terrier group at Westminster, not yet. She is my pick this year.

Possible spoilers are the Russell terrier, GCH CH Goldsands Columbus, and the Welsh terrier, GCH CH Shaireab’s Bayleigh Maid of Honor. Don’t be surprised if the miniature bull terrier, GCH CH Cambria’s Kid n Play, from Graham, Pierce County, gets a piece of the group.

Judge Bruce Schwartz, like Sky, is from Southern California and is president of the All Terrier Montgomery County Kennel Club in Pennsylvania. Although judge Schwartz has not judged Sky, Sky was the BIS winner at Montgomery in 2013.

Q: The toys have Classie, GCH CH Marlex Classic Red Glare, the top-winning miniature pinscher in breed history. How does she stack up in the race this year? Who will she have to beat?

A. We have an interesting faceoff in the toy group. Classie is in hot pursuit of the all-time record for a toy dog, now held by the Pekingese, CH Yakee If Only. That Peke was shown by David Fitzpatrick, who will have another of his Pekingese, GCH CH Yakee Easily Persuaded, at this year’s Westminster.

One of the new faces to look for this year is the latest toy poodle from the Japanese Smash Kennels, GCH CH Smash Jp Beauty & the Beat.

Judge Keke Kahn has not seen any of my three favorites, but she has given the pug, GCH CH Caper’s Sirius Endeavor, two Group Ones this past year.

Q: In the nonsporting group, Ally, GCH CH Brighton Lakeridge Encore, a white standard poodle owned by Toni and Martin Sosnoff, of New York, leads the field. She has strong Northwest ties: She was bred by Debra Ferguson Jones, of Renton, and L. Dyne Wicker Brennan, of Florida, and is handled by Woodinville’s Tim Brazier. She’ll be making her final appearance in the ring at Westminster. Can this dog go out as the big winner?

A. Tim has appeared at the Garden many times with a standard poodle, and Ally is a great one. Don’t forget that she is owned by a New York City couple and is a hometown favorite. I do have her as the favorite in the nonsporting group. Also look for the bulldog, GCH CH Mytoys Epic Against the Wind, the Chinese Shar-Pei, GCH CH Shine’s Deck the Halls, and the Tibetan spaniel, GCH CH Kan Sing’s Tenzin.

Judge Jackie Stacy will have one of the toughest decisions to make. She has given all the above four dogs a nonsporting Group One during the past four months.

And you thought it was tense for the exhibitors.

Q: Jewell, GCH CH Kiarry’s Pandora’s Box, an American foxhound, was the No. 1 hound last year and was also the big winner of the National Dog Show in Philadelphia in November. She has done remarkably well for this breed, but she apparently has retired and will not be showing at the Garden. How competitive is the hound group this year?

A. I’m expecting a lot of excitement in the hound group. First, we have a trio of BIS winning Afghan hounds that will make that breed ring one of this year’s hot tickets. 2013’s No. 3 hound, GCH CH Tells Matrix Reloaded, is this year’s No. 1 hound so far, with five BIS already this year.

Last year’s No. 6 hound, GCH CH Exlysta Aries Ciel Noir, has two BIS, one RBIS, and five hound Group Ones in the first four weeks of the year. GCH CH Thaon’s Wallstreet, is an owner-handled dog that shows less frequently than the top dogs but wins a lot of the big ones. He was Group Two at Eukanuba in December and won the hound Group Two of the four days during the giant Rose City Classic in Portland earlier this year.

While the glamorous sight hounds often dominate the hound group, this year’s judge, Douglas Johnson, likes his scent hounds. I have a basset hound, a bloodhound and a black & tan coon hound on my list of favorites; however, neither the basset nor the coon hound may be entered. The coon hound is GCH CH Windbourne Hd Ranch King Of The Road, owned by Shelley Campbell, of Oregon, and co-owned and handled by Shea and Tiffany Skinner, of Stanwood.

Q. The sporting group has, among others, Riley, GCH CH Whistlestop’s Riley On Fire, the top-winning Irish water spaniel in breed history. Is Riley good enough to carry the group? Who will be her biggest threats?

A. I do have Riley as my pick to win the sporting group. She won the sporting group at December’s giant Eukanuba Championship against fierce competition. I think her main competition will come from the field spaniel, GCH CH Promenade Pay It Forward, from Southern California, and the pointer, GCH CH Chesterhope State of T Art, from Dallas.

Q: Do you know of any dog coming out of retirement that could prove to be the spoiler?

A. In addition to the Doberman, FiFi, I would not be surprised to see the black cocker spaniel, GCH CH Casablanca’s Thrilling Seduction. He made a surprise appearance at Eukanuba, taking a Group Two behind Riley.

Q. Johnny Avello, executive director of Race & Sports for Wynn Las Vegas who posts betting odds on Westminster, this year has a Portuguese water dog as the 8-to-1 favorite to win Best in Show. A wire fox terrier is 10-to-1, an old English sheepdog is 12-to-1; an Irish water spaniel is 14-to-1 and a Doberman pinscher is 15-to-1. A standard poodle is 25-to-1.

And the winner?

A. IF the Portuguese water dog, Matisse, makes it out of the working group, I give him the edge over the old English sheepdog, Swagger. Again BIS judge Betty Regina Leininger will look at the two dogs and say, “Have I ever seen a better Portuguese water dog? Have I ever seen a better old English sheepdog?”

Matisse’s handler, Michael Scott had to skip the 2009 Westminster when he had the top-winning pointer, CH Cookieland Seasyde Hollyberry, because Holly’s owner is a member of the club’s board of governors. Michael’s wife, Michelle, has already won two BIS at the Garden. There are a lot of people who would like to see Michael win one too.

Interestingly enough, Leininger has judged BIS twice this past year. In May she chose the Doberman, FiFi, as her top dog at the Corn Belt Kennel Club in Illinois. In April, she named the Afghan hound, Matrix, her best at the large Valdosta Kennel Club show in Georgia.

To summarize, despite what the Wynn oddsmaker says, I say, “Don’t bet the lunch money.”


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