Several years ago, Ante Lučin invited me to judge the 2021 show in Split, Croatia. For years I had seen the live streaming of the pomp and circumstance of this nighttime show, with the Roman warriors and everyone dancing in the main ring, so I was very excited to be asked to judge it. But unfortunately, due to Covid, the 2021 show had to be cancelled.
Ante quickly invited the judges for 2023, since the 2022 panel had already been put in place.
Split is one of the main tourist sites in Crotia. The historic core of Split with Diocletian’s Palace was among the first urban complexes to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The emperor’s palace — which began to be built in the year 298, practically 2,000 years ago — is among the most important remnants from the late Roman period. The building of the palace began in the fall of the year 298. It is rectangular and somewhat adjusted to the configuration of the ground, with two wide, shaded porches and vertically crossed streets.
After the last emperor, the palace became the city of Split. People actually were living within the palace as private citizens. Now it is home to beautiful little boutique shops, a couple of small hotels and wonderful little restaurants. You really have to see it to understand the impact it has on Split and the entire country of Croatia.
When I looked at the airfares to Split, the best connection was about $3,400. Looking at all the possible connections, we were able to get a ticket for just over $2,000, which was a big difference. Going over, it was Newark to Munich, then Munich to Split. Returning it was Split to Dublin, and then on to Newark.
All in all, it worked quite well. There was about an hour delay leaving Newark and then an hour delay leaving Munich. We were lucky at Newark, because 75 percent of all the domestic flights were cancelled due to weather. They really do everything possible not to cancel international flights since there usually is only one flight per day. We had to wait for some of the crew and then two minor mechanical problems.
When I arrived in Split, Suzana Simon and her husband were waiting for me. They were our social and transportation hosts for the week. It is no easy chore hosting more than a dozen judges and their spouses for a week.
During the day the traffic is really very slow going in Split. We went the longer mountain way to the hotel, which took about an hour and 10 minutes.
Checking in at 2 p.m., I quickly hung up my clothes and went upstairs to join the other judges for a nice lunch and drinks. Some of the more close-by judges did not arrive until later in the evening. The lovely boutique hotel was not in Split, but in a neighboring small coastal city. It is not easy for the club to find a hotel that will let them have 20 rooms and not be extremely expensive. I believe our lovely rooms were about $250 per night. In Split it would be about $450. The food at the hotel for breakfast and lunch every day was very good. The entire staff was so nice and friendly. We had dinner each night at the show, usually around midnight.
The weather in Split is very hot during the summer, so the shows start at 7:30 p.m. The sun is beginning to set, and by 8 o’clock it is very pleasant.
There were 15 judges from many, many different countries. The majority were the best judges of Europe. Juan Miranda from Mexico and I were the only judges from the Western Hemisphere. Now when I judge in foreign countries, I seem to know more of the judges than when judging in the States. At shows at home, often I have never met half of the panel before, nor have I ever seen their name before. Years ago I knew all the judges on the panels.
I really treasure my foreign assignments. Many judges from the States do not want to travel to foreign countries. Some do not want to travel so far, and some do not want to judge since they do not get a big judging fee. I look at it as a paid vacation. I could not afford to go to Split — and most places in the world — on my own nickel. Most shows in the States do not entertain the judges for days before or after the shows — that is why they pay us our fees. The foreign assignments cost the clubs a lot of money to entertain the judges. It is also great to see dogs in other parts of the world. Some breeds in some places are better as a whole than what we see at most shows. It is also a great learning experience to spend relaxing time learning from judges from all over the world.
Each day we had an average of about 80 dogs. Except for Sunday we did critiques on each. Sunday we did not do critiques so the show would go faster, because after Sunday’s show, we have Supreme BIS, Supreme Junior and Supreme of all the other bests.
The stadium where the show has been held in past years was not available this year. This year it was held right on the beach. It was a great deal of extra work for the club. The artificial turf had to be laid on ground that was not ideal. The cost of the lighting was around €8,000. A huge tour bus that was converted into a bathroom for a men’s and ladies’ toilets was brought in at great expense. We have never seen anything like this before, and it worked extremely well. It was so much nicer than having to use port-o-johns. A huge tour bus shuttled all the judges back and forth from the hotel.
Around 11:30 p.m., a lovely dinner and wine were served for the judges. The groups were hopefully to start at midnight, but the first night we started a little later. Saturday I only had about 60 dogs because I was one of three judges to judge the Toy Specialty Show, which was scheduled to start at midnight. I had about 45 dogs, which consisted mostly of Papillons and Cresteds. Both breeds were quite good.
For some reason I had different stewards for the Toy specialty than the regular shows. For the regular shows, Sabina Sinkovic was my steward. Sabina is the breeder and owner of the famous “Orca,” the Lagotto that won so much in the States, and after returning home she went BIS at Crufts with Javier Mendikote showing her. Phil Booth made her top Sporting dog in the States.
Being that the World Dog Show is being held just a month after Split and the Istra show was the weekend after Split, the entries at both Split and Istra were down this year. This was mainly due to economics. People were saving their money to go to the World Dog Show: Switzerland is a very expensive country, and everywhere airfares and hotels have gone up so much in price. Even though the entry was a little smaller, dogs came from more than 40 different countries. We do have to remember that many countries in Europe are quite small, and so many of their exhibitors could drive to Split.
The quality of dogs in many breeds was very strong. The Bichons were so much better than the average show in the States. Beagles were very good and had better heads and fronts than in the States.
As always, Frenchies were a mixed bag. There was an exceptional Junior dog and a champion of top quality. Though the latter is owned in the States, he has been shown mainly in Central America. Just days before Split he won the breed at our big Houston shows.
Thursday I judged Best in Show and it went to a very beautiful long-coat Chihuahua. She was from Serbia and her mother was from a famous kennel, Dazzles, in Texas. She was also the mother of a wonderful young Junior bitch.
My 2nd BIS was a wonderful Xoloitzcuintli bred by the famous kennel in Mexico. My 3rd BIS was a young Lakeland from Germany. On Saturday, Juan Miranda put a beautiful Australian Shepherd that was bred in the States to BIS. At the Friday show, Siniša Cujan from Croatia awarded BIS to a beautiful white Standard Poodle owned and bred in the States. He was not campaigned long in the U.S., but has done a lot of winning all over Europe. He was my Reserve BIS at Istra last August.
Just days before the show, Carla Molinari had to cancel due to hurting her knee very badly. A call was placed to Cristian Stefanescu (above) from Romania, and he was on the plane to Split the next morning. Cristian had the honor of judging all the Supreme Bests, which were the four dogs that had gone BIS, along with the Schnauzer specialty. His Supreme Best was the Australian Shepherd. So two of the BIS winners— the Aussie and the Poodle — were bred in the States. The Chihuahua has an American mother. The sport is getting more and more unified among breeders and exhibitors. We Americans can take great pride in knowing we are such a major part in helping to breed top dogs all over the world.
Monday we spent time touring the city of Split, the main feature of which was touring the palace. Around 7:30p.m., we all went to a magnificent restaurant on the beach halfway between Split and our hotel. We got back to the hotel just before 2 a.m.
Tuesday I flew home, so I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to be picked up by taxi to go to the airport at 4:30 a.m. Needless to say, I slept most of the way from Dublin to Newark.
Split truly was one of the highlights I have experienced in judging. Ante Lučin (above), Javier, Suzana and her husband literally worked around the clock to pull it all together. Ante and Suzana even did some judging. Ante was an in-ring student with me one day. It was great spending so much time with so many judges who have been long-time friends and also meeting new ones. I had never met a young man from Cyprus, Constantinos Andreou. He is a veterinarian and a Boston breeder. He is campaigning a big-winning Boston in the States with Candice Waters, so we have lots of mutual friends.
I have already booked my flight and hotel to go to the World Dog Show in Zagreb next April. It will be a great show, indoors in a wonderful convention center. Already some of the hotels are sold out. Being in April the weather should be good for dogs and humans, and we will get to see more of Croatia.