Best of Breed, American Whippet Club National Specialty. Photo Teddy Lei.
Fri, 05/10/2024 - 8:07pm

The 2024 Whippet National

Biggest and best?

The national specialties held by the American Whippet Club already have a well-earned reputation for being the biggest and best anywhere.

It has been one of the 10 largest AKC specialties of the year 14 times this century up to 2022 (there was no show one year due to Covid), the latest year from which complete figures are available. Invariably several hundred Whippets and their owners turn up and take over a whole hotel or resort for at least a week. This is particularly impressive since Whippets are never anywhere near the top when AKC releases its annual figures of the most numerous breed by registrations: a modest 1,703 in 2022, for instance.

This year the American Whippet Club may have the record of the most dogs at a specialty show for ANY breed. How is that possible? The amazing Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac is confidently advertised on their website as “the largest single-breed specialty in the world … [w]ith entries sometimes approaching 2,000 …” Numbers have gone down in recent years, but the show is still huge: According to the official AKC figures, the LRCP had 534 dogs entered at their recent show (held just a couple of weeks before the Whippet national), 468 of which were present, and that's still a far cry from the earlier figures: In 2008 the club had a truly unbelievable 896 dogs present in competition at its show!


Best of Opposite Sex, American Whippet Club National Specialty. Photo Teddy Lei.


Anyway, the figures that have been bandied about, by Whippet people as well as others, are slightly confusing. You have to distinguish between total entries and number of dogs entered (because one dog can sometimes compete in two or more classes); you also have to know how many of the entered dogs are actually present at the show, and you have to consider which classes are considered official and which are not. Not that any of the above is necessarily more important than the others, but obviously you can't compare the size of different shows without knowing what the figures stand for.

According to the catalog, the American Whippet Club National Specialty in Kingsport, Tennessee, on April 20-27 had 676 dogs entered in the conformation classes, making 732 entries. They consisted of 152 class dogs, 241 class bitches, 59 veterans, 40 in the special classes for lure coursing/racing dogs, 184 specials (89 dogs, 95 bitches) — total 676. I don't know yet how many of these were present, but about a 10 percent absentee rate is considered normal, so there would have been a little more than 600 Whippets competing in the official classes.


Biggest Specialty?


Is this enough to make it the biggest single-breed show in the world for the year? The Whippet National may now be bigger than the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac, but the other specialty that's often one of the largest, the Golden Retriever Club of America National show, will not be held until early October, so we have to wait until at least then to see if the Whippet entry figure holds. (The GRCA had 706 dogs present at its 2021 specialty.) And what about the other usually well-attended specialties for other breeds — how large were they? The Sheltie and Collie nationals? Rhodesian Ridgebacks? Doberman Pinschers? Poodle Club of America? They all had fewer dogs present at their shows than the AWC National in 2022 but not necessarily this year.

(And what about foreign shows? The biggest German Shepherd Dog “Sieger” shows in the breed's native country are said to have even higher entry figures, but they may not be quite comparable for various reasons — and anyway the GSDs get lower entries at shows everywhere in recent years, even in Germany, although hundreds of thousands are still registered worldwide. But there may be others …)

Not that a big entry is necessarily the most important requirement for a wonderful specialty show. The caliber of the arrangements and the quality of the dogs are more crucial, and in both these areas the American Whippet Club comes out on top. A huge committee of dedicated AWC volunteers did a fantastic job. Phoebe Booth posted in the beginning of the week that the Meadowview Conference Resort and Convention Center in Kingsport was probably the nicest host hotel we had ever had and hoped that the Whippet people would behave so well that we would be welcome back. (We did!)

My traveling companion, Paul Lepiane, who has experienced innumerable nationals over 50 years not just for Whippets but for many breeds — Afghan Hounds, Poodles, German Shepherds, even Rhodesian Ridgebacks — also rated this specialty as excellent. The fact that judging of so many events was well timed and did not run several hours over the scheduled time was particularly impressive.

Dog News editor Denise Flaim, who was not at the show but watched the livestream videos, wrote a Facebook post on her personal page wondering why the Whippet people get along so well and suggesting that this breed may be of the highest quality there is, bar none. (There were many comments, 136 at last count, some of them very funny and many of them probably true, such as that the multiple competition venues open to this breed tend to keep the owners hopeful …). And most of the cognoscenti seemed to agree that the breed has never been in better shape: There was class after class of really gorgeous Whippets at the specialty, the likes of which could only have been imagined just a decade or two ago. Where do they come from, you may ask yourself, knowing how few and often mediocre they are at the average all-breed show, but here they were nevertheless.

It didn't hurt that Christine Heath made a wonderful local event chairman — calm, cool, friendly and unflappable — and that her husband, Steve Heath, again functioned as the best possible ring steward. This was the first in many, many years that National Event Chair Cindy Scott was not present, but thanks to some clever managing she was everywhere anyway — at least on Facebook. Someone (I'm still not sure who) had taken a cut-out of Cindy's face and posted this in every possible and impossible situation you could think of … often with a real-life person hiding behind the cut-out and providing the hands. There was Cindy solving problems on a hotel cart, welcoming us to the hotel, waving from a window, peeking out from the hotel shower and — my favorite, knowing that Cindy is a woman of moderation — resting after work on a hotel bed with a bottle of Jack Daniels …


National Event Chair Cindy Scott was not present at the AWC National Specialty …

… but was still everywhere!


There was also a lot of interest in the breed book that I just had updated to a total of more than 500 pages and approximately as many photographs. The publisher, Revodana Publishing, had sent a proof copy to the hotel, and although this was not the final version it was much admired and handed around to many. (One reader even started crying because it was all so beautiful!)


Glamorous Top 20


The Top 20 competition was as glamorous as ever, with Joseph Buchanan as master of ceremonies and Karen Roberson as chief ring steward. The judges were Hound Group judge Age Gjetnes from Norway, breeder Susan Vernon (Summit) from California and handler Ashlie Whitmore, who it will be remembered showed last year's AWC National BOB. The club had decided to no longer select a People's Choice, so this was awarded to Joseph instead for his service as this competition's superb (and very funny!) master of ceremonies for many years. A much-appreciated part of the program was the presentation of past Top 20 winners, followed by a moment of silence to remember Dr. Aaron Todd Miller (Jomyr), who judged the Top 20 and managed to officiate at two Whippet specialties last year before he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October.

Finally, this year's winner of Top 20 was announced: The judges chose the brindle-and-white bitch GCh. Pinnacle Garden Party — the first award in what was for her a fantastic week.

I mentioned above that according to information in the catalog, 676 dogs made 732 entries in the regular, competitive classes. The following classes and entries are in addition to the above and help explain how the show could have a reported total entry of 1,218 (still according to what’s stated in the catalog). In most cases, the additional entries are made up of dogs that were also shown in the regular classes, so there would not have been many additional dogs, just more entries. 

Most of the 13 Whippet Stud Dog and 17 Brood Bitch entries were competing as specials as well, so have already been counted as “dogs entered.” The progeny classes had their own judge, Thomas Kirstein (Ripshin Whippets … and Afghan Hounds previously), these days mostly an AKC judge. He chose a fawn dog from Canada with two fawn offspring as the winner of the Stud Dog class, Ch. Wunder Forgetmenot Dream Big, with the brindle (with white markings) GCh. Summit Stripe A Pose, SC, heading the Brood Bitch class. Mr. Kirstein also had 16 Brace units entered, one Team unit, four Extended Generation Stud Dog and three Extended Generation Brood Bitch units. Carol Pyrkosz, who has owned many breeds, including a multiple BIS Chihuahua, judged the 16 entries in Junior Showmanship.

The 103 entries in Breeder Sweepstakes, 53 in Futurity, 41 in Maturity and 54 in Veteran Sweepstakes were all entered in the regular classes as well. Kevin Carlson (Aeolus) judged Breeder Sweepstakes and found his winner in the brindle-and-white bitch GCh. Albelarm Call Me A Tekdal Fanatic at Reve, JC. The Futurity and Maturity classes were judged by Dr. Susanne Hughes (Snow Hill) and won by, respectively, Ch. Rantina Cypress Bon's Lyra and Merrithoughts Cherry On Top. (There were no designated BOS to these awards.) The sweepstakes for Veterans was won by the brindle-and-white GCh. Laurel Double Or Nothing under Al Miniero (Alerek) with BOS to the black GCh. Willowisp The Shadow of the Waxwing.

Maybe the 18 entries in Altered competition should be added to the total, although this is not an official class. Ryan Zienert (Wildbriar), who got his first Whippet at age nine, judged. Chris Durance Watkins (Cherché) had 26 entries in Versatility Conformation and 50 in Triathlon Conformation. There were also 94 entries in Obedience and 107 in Rally, judged respectively by Cheryl Tisdale and Marina Caro (who owns several Whippets), but it would take a lot of studying the catalog to figure out how many of these were also entered in any regular conformation class.

There was a lot more going on. The AWC sees health testing as a major responsibility, and there were EC (heart), BAER (hearing) and OFA (vision) clinics with hundreds of Whippets tested. There was a presentation of the Top 10 in triathlon and versatility and of the Top 15 in the National Owner-Handled Series. There was a parade of rescues and a parade of honors, judges' education, ringside mentoring, a junior handling seminar, Canine Good Citizen and trick-dog testing. Somehow the club's annual meeting was also squeezed in, but it started so early in the morning (Eastern time!) that I had to miss it …


Laura Stanton, who showed her dogs from a scooter due to a broken leg, posted this photo and the following: “What a great AWC National! Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to put this monumental event on successfully! I love this photo that Teddy Lei captured of seven of the top 15 Owner-Handlers of 2023 after our presentation … [S]pecial thank-you to all the exhibitors, judges and officials for being so kind to me, struggling with a broken knee to stack and move my dogs with doing my best to not mess anyone else up. No win is worth anything if at the expense of another exhibit. All dogs need to look their best for an even playing field. And, wow, I'm blown away by all the good quality Whippets that showed up and showed well. Congratulations to all!”


The Regular Judging


All this, and the regular specialty judging also! This year's national-specialty judge, elected by the AWC membership, was Debbie Davenport of Kamada Whippets in Illinois. Debbie is not a regular AKC judge (as her late mother, Kathleen Davenport, was), but she has judged two previous Whippet specialties under AKC's Parent Club Approval System, as well as the AWC Futurity and the Top 20 competition. Kamada has bred more than 80 AKC champions since the 1980s, won the AWC national, shown several all-breed and specialty BIS winners, and both owned and bred the top sire Ch. Kamada's Instant Millionaire.

BOB was finally the Top 20 winner, current #1 Whippet and #4 Hound (as of Dog News statistics published April 19), GCh. Pinnacle Garden Party (Ch. Bo-Bett's Pajama Party x Ch. Longlesson Girl Who Drank The Moon), called “Ivy” and normally handled by her owner and breeder Justin Smithey but shown this time by Kelly Riney. Ivy's sire, from whom she seems to have inherited her dramatic neck markings, won a veteran class of 20, has not been to a dog show for seven years, but is a popular stud dog and the sire of at least two current BIS winners. Ivy's dam is mostly black, sired by GCh. Pinnacle Tennessee Whiskey and litter sister to the Westminster winner last year. It was the fifth time that Justin and Cheslie Smithey from Georgia won the AWC National Specialty since 2017!

BOS was a move-up from one of the oldest, most low key and highly respected Whippet kennels in the U.S., the mostly brindle new Ch. Plumcreek Stand Up Guy at PHF (Ch. Plumcreek Stand and Deliver x Plumcreek I'm Swept Away), bred by Linda Larson and her daughter Sarah Shakespeare in Illinois, and co-owned by Linda with Jennifer Kempey and Nicole Howland of Georgia. Guy was entered in the Amateur Owner Handler class but was competing as a special. Linda Larson was showing dogs at the national but didn't stay for specials judging; when I saw her, the owner was just going to call her.

The BOS is also listed as BOBNOHS, but I thought I saw that go to the red-brindle bitch with white markings GCh. Phasions Heavenly Inspiration, who got the first Award of Merit.

Select Dog was the 2019 AWC Futurity winner, the fawn brindle-and-white GCh. Cherché Arborlea Hold Your Horses, MC, while Select Bitch was the famous GCh. Pinnacle Kentucky Bourbon, winner of more than 100 BIS — in spite of being eight and a half years old and having had three litters she looked just wonderful, not at all ready to retire!

The 10 Awards of Merit went to the aforementioned Heavenly Inspiration; GCh. Pinnacle Tennessee Whiskey (Bourbon's brother); GCh. Merrithoughts On Higher Grounds; GCh. Sobresalto Malafemmina (born in Italy); GCh. Texano Order of the Phoenix (born in Mexico, number-one Whippet in the U.S. in 2023); GCh. Sporting Fields Love and Shenanigans (Best Veteran; Select Bitch competed as a special); GCh. Laurel Double or Nothing; GCh. & Dual Ch. Kalina Ableaim Hats and Fashion, CD MC LCX2 NA NAJ DM DS AM TKI; Ch. Avantina Forgetmenot Fortunella (born in Finland), and GCh. Cariad Isn't It Time (possibly born in Canada).


Overseas Visitors


The three (or four?) imports who got AOMs remind me that there were some foreigners present at ringside, including a group from Norway that consisted of Age; his husband Espen Engh (most recently Hound Group judge at Crufts and past AWC national-specialty judge); Sighthound specialist Bjørg Foss, and breeder, photographer and also past judge of the AWC National Pauline Oliver from England. Whether they were as enthusiastic about the quality of the entry as previously stated I can't say (the AKC standard is different from the one used elsewhere), but I just heard that Espen gave the BOB winner a group exactly a week after the national!

Best of Winners and Best Bred-by Exhibitor was the Winners Dog, the fawn brindle-and-white Forgetmenot Wunder Alec Trique (just over a year old, sired by Ch. Avantina Forgetmenot Frangelico x Wunder Forgetmenot In Victory). RWD was the predominantly white Kalina Ableaim No Coffee No Talkie, SC BCAT CGCA TKN FITB (sired by frozen semen from the great sire of the 1990s, Ch. Rhode Paved With Gold, out of the previously mentioned GCh. & Dual Ch. Kalina Ableaim Hats and Fashion, see above for all the additional titles after the name). Winners Bitch was the red brindle Surrey Hill Mariner Top-of-the-Trees, RI FDC SC DCAT ACT1 ACTU SWN CGC TKA ATT FITB (GCh. Surrey Hill Mariner Smooth Hoperator, RATN TKAN x Ch. Surrey Hill's Mother of Dragons at Mariner, SC BCAT). RWB was the black brindle-and-white WesAnn's Lya of The Nox, BCAT CGC TKN (Ch. WesAnn's New York Bound x Ch. WesAnn's Independence Day).

Best Puppy was fawn (with white markings) bitch Pinnacle Scottish Glory at Festiva (bred by Justin and Cheslie Smithey, co-owned by Katie Rudolph with the breeders, and sired by Whiskey out of Ch. Festiva's Stars and Stripes).

Best Performance Dog, a competition between the four class winners that had qualified for the performance classes (15 Lure Coursing Dogs, nine Racing Dogs, 10 Lure Coursing Bitches and six Racing Bitches), was the black bitch (with a bit of white) GCh. Deerpath Cherché Midnight Ice, SC (owned and bred by Nancy Jorczak and Chris Durance-Watkins, sired by GCh. Cherché Walk On The Wild Side x GCh. Deerpath Signature Cartier, TD SC SWN SEA CGC).


Hotel Support


I said earlier that the Whippet people behaved quite well: no problem with dogs trashing rooms at the hotel, barking endlessly or defecating on the premises. I checked with the hotel staff a couple of times during our stay and always got thumbs up. Still, we never feel exactly welcome at most hotels, so it was nice to see the following text from the Mountainview resort's event manager before leaving on Sunday morning:

On behalf of our staff at the Meadowview Marriott and the city of Kingsport, thank you all.

It was an absolute pleasure serving as your event manager this year. I really hope we have the honor again in the near future. I got to know and work with so many wonderful people this week, and for that I am grateful. From your outstanding staff, dedicated volunteers and delightful attendees, the AWC is nothing short of exceptional from top to bottom.

To Christine, Cindy, Gwen, Maddie, Kim, Donna, Sara, Trisha, Meredith and so many others that began the planning process with us many moons ago, it was a true privilege to see all of your hard work pay off.

Please travel safely, and look us up if you're passing through the area. We'll take good care of you.

                  From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all.

                  All the best,



Racing and Coursing


On Sunday, the day after BOB judging, we got the chance to go racing: The Whippet Racing Association held a meet at Kominek Farm in Limestone, about a half-hour from the hotel. The farmland is owned by Afghan Hound fanciers and performance enthusiasts Eddie and Selma Kominek; the straight racing is done on flat grass and lure coursing where the ground is more hilly. I had been warned that we'd see “a lot of really ugly dogs,” because the people who participate in WRA focus only on speed, not on adherence to the AKC breed standard and speed, but that didn't seem to be the case, perhaps because of the proximity of the AWC National.

Anyway, the lure coursing that is officially part of the national had taken place the previous weekend, with the ASFA (American Sighthound Field Association) trial on Saturday, April 20, and the AKC trial on Sunday, April 21. There were more than 200 Whippets entered, 50 of them conformation champions (47 AKC, three UKC). The judges were well-known Sighthound people: Darci Kunard from Colorado has the Lotus Pharaoh Hounds and officiated at the ASFA meet, and Anne Midgarden of Ohio breeds the Teine Borzoi and was the judge for the AKC event. Don White acted as co-judge on both days.


BOB, Saturday, April 20 (ASFA lure coursing), Keen's Formula One, SC (“Indy”). Standing, judges Don White and Darci Kunard. Photo Mary Huff.


BOB at the ASFA event was the fawn bitch Keen's Formula One, SC (“Indy,” by GCh. & Dual Ch. Liberty's Cool Runnings out of Field Ch. Bushbaby Fiery Button of Bul'Och), bred by Shannon Hoehn and owned by Cindy Bulligan. BOB at AKC lure coursing was  the brindle bitch Field Ch. Williwaw Sailor's Delight (“Siren,” by Wheatland Agave Azul x Ch. Sporting Field's A Lot Like Love, SC), bred by Kristen Koons and owned by Katie Marshall.


BOB, Sunday, April 21 (AKC lure coursing), Field Ch. Williwaw Sailor's Delight (“Siren”). Judges Don White and Anne Midgarden. Photo Mary Huff.


One Judge!


One of the topics at the AWC Annual Meeting was apparently the question of whether there should be one judge for the official breed classes at the national, as has been the case almost from the start, or several — say, one judge for class dogs, a second for class bitches and a third for specials. The entry is certainly large enough, several other breeds employ this system at their nationals, and of course it raises the chances that at least one judge will be “good” for you (usually meaning, will appreciate your dogs!). However, at least among the judges present there was overwhelming support for the one-judge format. It has served the club well in the past and will probably do so in the future also.              

Onward toward the 2025 American Whippet Club National Specialty. It will take place April 19-25 in Wilmington, Ohio, and the — one! — judge for the regular classes will be Jan Swayze-Curry of the long-established Longlesson kennels in Kentucky.



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