An Armchair View of Westminster, the World Show and More
Technology is now so sophisticated that we are thoroughly spoiled: Those of us who can’t physically attend major dog shows can now watch much of the proceedings live from the luxury of our own homes thanks to the introduction of livestreaming.
The first big event to be studied was Westminster, once again at its outdoor venue and at a later date than originally planned. I’m sure I’m not alone in missing the congestion and buzz of the crowded ringsides when breed judging took place at Madison Square Garden, but I am sure that exhibitors enjoy the space and convenience of bigger rings, be it at the Piers or Lyndhurst.
Although it wasn’t possible to watch all the individual breeds I wanted to live, they appeared very promptly on YouTube, which made for leisurely, slightly retrospective viewing. I was keen to watch my good friend Bert Easdon judge some excellent entries in his breeds, but felt for him in Pekingese, where so many of the exhibits didn’t seem too impressed with the grass!
It really is amazing how the show management and contractors have re-created the Garden atmosphere with that amazing construction – if you didn’t know you were at Lyndhurst, it just looks like MSG in every detail.
One of the appeals of the big-ring judging at Westminster (and indeed other American dog shows) when compared to other prestigious events internationally is that the competition is restricted to the groups proper, with no “side shows” detracting. All the Westminster group judges were highly watchable and understandable with no cause for raised eyebrows.
Thankfully it was possible to watch the Best in Show judging live via YouTube, so I could see it on my bedroom television rather than the laptop or iPad, and that enhanced the experience no end. I had greatly looked forward to watching Dr. Sturz’s finest hour, he being a true dog man for whom I have the greatest respect. Watching his face as the seven group winners made their entrance was quite emotional, as it was obvious that Don was holding back tears – of joy – as the magnificent seven lined up. Having watched the hands-on and individual gaiting, I had a sneaking feeling that the Bloodhound may well have done what it takes, having listened to the Best in Show judge in a previous interview talking through what he expected of his winner, and so it was. The exuberant French Bulldog certainly flew the flag for the much-maligned brachycephalic breeds and was duly rewarded with the Reserve spot.
Clearly the Westminster Kennel Club had put on a tremendous show.
Moving on to Spain, where the Spanish Kennel Club had finally managed to stage its FCI World Show after several Covid-related postponements. Right up to the wire there were concerns about the heat, which thankfully proved unfounded; as for the show days, the weather cooled, and in any event I am told the air conditioning at the venue was superb.
Heading the team that staged the event was Jose Doval, newly elected president of the Spanish Kennel Club, who has recently been voted on to the FCI board. That he is a “dog man’s dog man,” breeder and exhibitor showed up in the fact that exhibitors and dogs were clearly a priority of the management. While we didn’t have the luxury of formal breed-judging streaming (though lots of eager spectators were of course happy to broadcast via Facebook), the big ring streaming each day was superb, provided by Richard Volarik’s P1 Dog Shows Team with Richard’s beautiful wife Linda being joined for the in-ring commentary by Maria Jose Haro, so both Spanish and English on-the-spot commentaries were given.
Often at FCI World Shows there is at least one of the 10 group winners that prompts surprise, but this year all 10 seemed to be worthy and credible, which must have delighted the Best in Show judge, Spain’s own Rafael Malo Alcrudo, who stunned observers when he emerged from the shadows sporting an outfit in the colors of the Spanish flag. Hat, suit, shirt and shoes were all of the national red and yellow!
A real coup for Spanish dogdom was having the presence of Queen Sofia at the show, and her visit apparently was extended longer than originally planned. A lifelong dog lover and breeder, she toured the show, mingling with exhibitors, and was called upon to make the presentation to the winner of the Best of the Spanish Breeds, judged by Carlos Salas Melero, which was a Gos Rater Valencia, a new breed to me but the representative certainly was an eye-catcher.
Rafa was certainly in entertainer mode as he put the group winners through their paces and built the final up to an exciting climax. Fourth was a Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund from Spain, third an Old English Sheepdog from Hungary, second a Bulldog all the way from Peru, and the top spot went to a striking Wire Fox Terrier from Italy. They all looked a picture on the podium.
I find it interesting that at these two significant shows we saw a Bulldog and a French Bulldog taking second place behind the overall winners – two happy, healthy, energetic specimens of their breeds that emphatically refuted the many claims that these breeds are unhealthy and unsound. I just wonder how much mileage the relevant organizations have gotten out of these wins, as here was a golden opportunity to promote and defend the brachycephalic breeds to the general public. Interestingly, at the big Blackpool show in the U.K. over the Madrid weekend, none other than Michael Gadsby had a Bulldog winning his Utility Group, so another brachy triumph was scored.
Days after Madrid, my Croatian friend Ante Lucin miraculously managed to put together an amazing quartet of guests for his monthly live Talking Dogs With Ante round-table broadcast. Not only had he invited both Best in Show judges for Westminster and the World Show, he had Jose Doval, who, with his team, had organized Madrid, and Diane Stewart-Ritchie, who had driven to Spain from Ireland to show her Irish Setters (very successfully, winning both BOB and BOS), so she was able to give the viewpoint of the exhibitor. This was a fascinating session that lasted for more than two hours and clearly all four were still running on adrenaline, as you could sense the joy and excitement of Donald and Rafael in particular as they talked us through their decision-making.
At a time when we seem to be surrounded by negativity, this was a very uplifting broadcast in which four of the dog world’s major players emphasized what is so good about our sport and expressed their hopes for its future.