Fri, 03/15/2024 - 4:40am

In the (Hot) Pink

Vince Hogan reports on Eukanuba Top Dogs … UK Style

Once more, on February 5, the culmination of the year-long schedule for the Champion Stakes and Pup of the Year in the U.K. took place at the Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth, the traditional home for the Eukanuba event. The venue is close to the NEC in Birmingham, home of the famous Crufts dog show every March.

Many agree this is a highlight in the canine calendar for dedicated breeders and exhibitors in the U.K., and congratulations are due to the Eukanuba team for staging such a splendid event, wrapped in the traditional Eukanuba pink. Ownership of the brand changed a few years ago both in the U.S. and the U.K., but the British scene still benefits from Eukanuba’s support for the Champion Finals and Pup of the Year.

Historically the Pup of the Year Competition was run by a national newspaper in the U.K., the Daily Express, before passing to Pedigree many years ago, and more recently by Eukanuba as Pedigree faded from the U.K. show scene.

Team leader Phil Davies and account manager Emily Lewis are well known to dog folk in the U.K., and are the driving force for the event along with Helen Blyde, Eukanuba head of marketing, now on her third year at the “Eukanubas.” Phil is a top breeder of Kerry Blue Terriers and Welsh Terriers.


The Eukanuba team prepares for a busy day.




This year’s competition saw 14 puppies and 16 adult champions tread the freshly laid pink carpet to compete for the coveted titles and beautiful prizes. People watching on social media actually said that the carpet enhanced the colors of the dogs … so that worked!

The judges were revealed as the well-known Geoff Corish (international judge, top handler, winner of Crufts in previous years) for the youngsters and Paul Wilkinson the champions, both judges of many decades experience. At 2 p.m. precisely, proceedings began with heartfelt words from Lee Cox inviting those present to remember Mark Cocozza, an all-round judge known in the U.K. and probably by many in Hounds in the U.S.

A round of applause took place to honor the life of a passionate and dedicated dog person; the opportunity to give thanks for his life and his contribution to the sport was appreciated by all.


International all-round judges Jill Peak of the U.K. and Tiina Taulos from Finland at the Eukanuba event.


The puppies entered the ring and lined up by the boards of their respective qualifying shows. Geoff cast an initial look at them together before they again left, with just one dog in the ring at a time to commence the individual examinations. Commentary was provided, with each exhibitor encouraged to share a few details about their dog’s home life, which revealed the often literal “down to earth” lives these dogs have when outside the show ring.

The livestream numbers were rocketing from the moment the OUR DOGS team went live online, and the event was avidly followed by dog people in the U.S. and Canada and as far afield as Australia and South Africa, as well as all over the U.K. and Ireland.




After completing each individual assessment, Geoff watched his puppies return to the ring en masse, and after a careful final look at the whole group, he shortlisted eight for further scrutiny. These were the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel “Erin” (Ellemich Good Trouble At Gleniren), sent through by Suzy Roffey from Birmingham National; “Belle” the Beagle (Annavah Belinda Of Davricard), who was chosen by Tony Alcock at SKC; “Tristen” the Tibetan Terrier (Waterley Heart Breaker), selected by Keith Baldwin at Three Counties; “Reggie” the Boxer (Sulez Scorcher At Glenauld), the choice of Michael Gadsby at Blackpool; “Willo” the Briard (Charson Walls Have Ears), the pick of Paul Harding at Paignton; “Anna” the West Highland White Terrier (Burneze Mad About The Girl), Maria Hardings’ selection at Welsh Kennel; Pink the Irish Setter (Ferasheen Perfekt In Pink Gwendariff), chosen by Moray Armstrong at Darlington, and “Sooty” the Pointer (Kanix Sooty At Stargang), sent through by David Bell at Gundog Society Of Wales.


Top puppy winner was the Briard under well-known judge Geoff Corish.


Each puppy completed another “out and back” and then around the ring to further appreciation from the packed ringside. Geoff kept everyone in suspense a little longer by making a second shortlist to four. Each of these was now guaranteed a placing, but giving their all in the last moments of competition to decide their order. Once the boards were placed, it was Willo the Briard with Adam Gardner, co-owned by Sonya Hillier and Boo Thorp, who was first out to be crowned Pup of the Year, with Glenn Davies and Tristan the TT in second place. Third went to Sooty the Pointer, Jo Blackburn-Bennett and Angus McCara celebrating here, and fourth spot to little Anna the Westie, with Marie Burns.


Second in puppy competition, the Tibetan Terrier.


Third, Sooty the Pointer.


Fourth in puppies, the Westie.


Celebrations and time to relax for the puppy competitors, a short comfort break for the audience, and then at just after 3 p.m. it was time for the ultimate contest of U.K. Champion show dogs and a reset for the livestream and the worldwide audience.




Here we had a full complement of 16 champions for Paul Wilkinson to assess, judging proceeding in the same manner as previously, and again a shortlist of eight was made. Paul, like Geoff, is very much a Terrier man, but that was not to influence his choice today.

His top eight were “Hendricks” the Weimaraner (Sh Ch Gunalt Hendricks), chosen at Manchester by Lee Cox; “Viking” the Australian Shepherd (Ch Brighttouch Drift The Line Through Dialynne), sent through by Ernie Paterson at SKC; “Marti” the Tibetan Terrier (Ch Waterley Midnight Martini), picked by Paul Harding at Paignton; “Panda” the American Cocker Spaniel (Sh Ch Zarcrest Panda Monium), selected by Maria Harding at Welsh Kennel; “Rossi” the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen (Ch Soletrader Valentino Rossi), chosen by Steve Hall at City Of Birmingham; “Trevor” the Miniature Pinscher (Ch Hawksflight Hot Pursuit), representing Anne McDonald and Richmond; “Jasper” the Hungarian Vizsla, (Sh Ch Layways Van Winkle), picked by David Bell at Gundog Society of Wales, and “Quickie” the Smooth Fox Terrier (Ch Kanix Quickstep), selected by Crufts Chairman Tom Mather at LKA.


Eukanuba Champion Stakes winner, Viking the Australian Shepherd.


The shortlist was moved into speed order and asked to complete two full circuits of the ring before coming to rest for the final decisions. The nod for the boards came, and it felt very fitting to see Melanie Raymond and Viking the Australian Shepherd dance into the winner’s spot. Co-owned by John Shaw and Kerry Kirtley, Viking was the Top Dog All Breeds for 2023 competition, and this win puts a jewel in the crown of an amazing year for him.

Second place went to an astonished Emily Miles, with her Jasper the Vizsla, who continues to go far beyond all ambitions for him (Emily just hoped as a puppy she could qualify him for Crufts), and it was lovely to see his housemate Trevor the Miniature Pinscher, with Tereza Watkins and Co-owned by Jess Bugden, beside him in third place. Completing the quartet was the Smooth Fox Terrier Quickie, owned by Kari Wilberg and handled by Warren Bradley.


Second place to Jasper the Vizsla.


All smiles for Trevor the Min Pin in third place.


Fourth place in Champion Stakes, Quickie with Smooth Fox Terrier.


With the judging complete and the winners taking some time for pictures on the hotel grounds, everyone else had time to check in and get ready for the evening’s entertainment.




The show arena was transformed by the team and the hotel staff into the gala dinner set-up. Tables bedecked by pink balloons and even inflatable bones this year!

Compere for the evening was Vince Hogan, who introduced Helen Blyde of Eukanuba to make the presentations, also thanking Eukanuba for their generous sponsorship in these challenging times.

One by one, Vince called up the stewards, the commentators and the judges for their commemorative gifts before finally bringing on our two main winners and owners’ teams, to rapturous applause. Dancing and celebrations ensued for those with stamina and a fitting end to a fabulous day.

Next up for many of these top dogs is Crufts, which is literally about to take place as you are reading these words! Maybe we will see some Stateside dog folk at the NEC, which boasts 24,000 entries for Crufts 2024!




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