Beagle, a Breed Long Unsung, Wins Best in Show
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
When Dr. J. Donald Jones, the judge for the best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Tuesday night, looked at the seven competitors for the title, he saw four breeds that had been denied the crown and three that had worn it.
Of course, there is no actual crown, but a lovely celebratory bowl that victorious toy dogs leap into for a little nap while their entourage kvells.
The four breeds that had been shut out were the beagle, the Weimaraner, the Australian shepherd and the Akita. There were two breeds that had captured best in show four times, the standard poodle and the Sealyham terrier, and a third, the toy poodle, that was twice a victor.
Jones watched each dog enter to the fanfare of dimmed house lights at Madison Square Garden and a double spotlight. The standard poodle trotted out first for a lap around the green-carpeted floor, followed by the Akita, the Weimaraner, the Australian shepherd, the beagle (to thunderous applause, as if Willis Reed had walked into the arena one last time), the Sealyham terrier and, finally, the toy poodle.
The judge could hear Uno, the 15-inch beagle, baying as he gave his once-over to the standard poodle. And when he completed his observations, he needed four minutes before he pointed to the winner: Uno, the beagle, or Ch. K-Run’s Park Me In First, who will turn 3 in May.
Snoopy would be pleased. His breed, long passed over for glory, had finally triumphed.
“He’s the most perfect beagle I’ve ever seen,” Jones said at a news conference, where Uno hopped on the judge’s legs trying to get at his water.
“If you saw him, you saw that perfectly smooth locomotion. Not one muscle went the wrong way. Look at his face, you melt right down."
He added: “That was a beautiful lineup of dogs. I’d give this dog a 10.”
Jones had not been aware that his choice of a beagle was unprecedented.
“That’s wonderful!” he said, and turned to Aaron Wilkerson, Uno’s 29-year-old handler, and said, “You’re a first, young man.”
Asked why he thought no beagle had ever won best in show at Westminster before, Jones said, “Maybe the others just didn’t have it.”
By now, Uno’s baying at Wilkerson had accelerated, as had the insistent east-west wagging of his tail. His showman’s cool had evaporated.
“He talks to him,” Jones said in admiration. “What a personality.”
Wilkerson said he was astonished by the reception Uno has received since winning the hound group Monday.
“Everywhere I stopped, people said: ‘Is this Uno? Is this Uno?’ ” Wilkerson said. “And when he entered the arena for last night’s judging and heard the roar of the crowd, I said, ‘Whoa!’ ”
David Frei, the analyst for the USA broadcast of the show and the director of communications for Westminster, said, “That was the loudest I’ve heard it in 19 years.”
Jones said he did not measure anyone’s applause.
Wilkerson has been working with Uno since he was 6 months old, and the charismatic beagle lives with him in Columbia, S.C..
“He’s my best friend,” he said, adding, “He’s just a great friend.”
Now, said Wilkerson, Uno can do as he pleases, but the champion will probably be content to return home and play with his rubber duck.
The night began with judging in three groups. Marge, a graceful, mouse-gray 4-year-old Weimaraner known as Ch. Colsidex Seabreeze Perfect Fit, won the sporting group, possibly the most consistently beautiful selection of show dogs, with its spaniels, setters, retrievers and pointers.
“Marge gave the performance of a lifetime,” said Alessandra Folz, her handler, whose pink suit made her stand out as much as her sleek dog.
“She doesn’t have much left to prove, but we’ll keep going for the Weimaraner best-in-show record.”
Marge has 23, desperately seeking to break 27. As for the nickname, Folz cited neither Marge the manicurist nor Marge Champion as an inspiration.
“I sat her on the kitchen counter,” she said, “looked at her and said, ‘You look like a Marge.’ ”
Vikki, a seven-pound toy poodle, took her second consecutive toy group title. A month from turning 4, Vikki, her tiny body an artistic expression of canine topiary, is retiring and flying Wednesday to Japan.
Kaz Hosaka, her handler, also guided Vikki, or Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory to last year’s group victory and won best in show at Westminster six years ago with a miniature poodle, Ch. Surrey Spice Girl.
“I was very nervous,” Hosaka said after Vikki won.
“A lot of pressure. I was so nervous, I think I made her nervous.”
He said he distracted Vikki from the audience and the cameras by feeding her little bits of steak throughout the group judging.
“She ate about a half pound,” he said. “She always eats a lot. She’s a little chubby."
Vikki had been the No. 1-ranked dog in the country. The Akita, Macey, or Ch. Redwitch Reason To Believe, took the working group.
“She was on!” said her handler, Laurie Jordan-Fenner, excited at the prospect of guiding the first Akita to a best in show at the Garden. But it was not to be.