Determining a Canine Idol at Westminster

Westminster Best In Show.

Judges on American Idol could learn something by watching the judges at Westminster. “Dog show judges conduct themselves with decorum,” says Lester Holt of CNBC-TV and co-host of Weekend Today. After missing last year because he was on assignment, Holt returns with David Frei for the USA Network’s broadcast of the Westminster Dog Show from Madison Square Garden, Feb. 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

“But you see, they’re judging dogs,” continues Holt. “Animals and children are the great equalizers. Even Simon (Cowell) would be a little kinder and gentler, and maybe even melt, as that dog wags a tail.”

“Of course, a dog with any taste may lift a leg toward Simon,” Holt laughs. But as venerable dog show announcer David Frei adds, “You never know what can happen. First off, they are dogs. But the setting is tough to handle for some; 18,500 screaming fans, living in a hotel room and having to deal with the sights, sounds and smells of Manhattan. For a dog used to running in open fields, it’s sure a change. For one thing, there’s no grass to do your business on ” you have to learn to do it on concrete.”

As a result, some dogs expected to shine may fall by the wayside simply because they don’t love New York. Others, however, thrive there. “I actually think some (dogs) are, well, naturally showmen,” says Holt. If they were human, these dogs might be performing on Broadway. They love the adulation. Many ex-Westminster winners make appearances, and sign “pawtographs” for charity.

Rufus, a colored bull terrier, was last year’s Best In Show winner.

Last year’s Best in Show winner, a colored bull terrier named Rufus, is no exception. The only problem is that the colored bull terrier is a variety of a breed banned along with pit bulls in many communities. “Rufus is a wonderful example, and ambassador for this type of dog,” says Frei, who is also director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club. “He’s a celebrity in his own right. He’s raised money for charity, and he’s a good dog. It may sound trite, but it is true ” there are no bad dogs; there are only bad owners.”

Of course, Westminster features the best of the best. Over 90 of the top 100 ranked dogs will be there. Both evenings during the live TV broadcast, viewers will see the top dog representing each breed in the Group judging. The Best in Breed competition is held earlier in the day, but it can now be viewed on the Internet within a few hours of the actual judging at Last year, the Web site enjoyed 127 million hits to view video of Best in Breed. “You want to see examples of what you happen to have, of your own best friend lying on the couch next to you,” Frei says.

This will be the 131st Annual Westminster Dog Show. Only one sporting event, the Kentucky Derby, has been around longer. No doubt because of the TV coverage and now the Internet ” Westminster has never been more popular.

For the first time ever Las Vegas odds makers are listing Westminster dogs at the Wynn Casino. Frei is quick to add, “It’s for entertainment purposes only. Besides, really, you never know who is going to win. Two years ago Carlee, the German shorthaired pointer, came out of nowhere to win; she wasn’t even among the top 50.”

Frei, a veteran of 18 Westminster broadcasts offers his favorites to win Best in Show for 2007. Here are his picks:

Champion Hobergays Fineus Fogg (Harry), a Dandie Dinmont terrier co-owned by Bill Cosby (who is likely to attend the show), is the number one dog in the nation. Last year, he won Best in Breed at Westminster.
Champion Felicity’s Diamond Jim (James), an English springer spaniel, won the 2006 AKC/Eukanuba dog show, and he’s the number two dog in the country.
Champion Some Like It Hot (Marilyn ” as in Marilyn Monroe), a boxer who has momentum at the moment, seems to be on a winning streak.
Champion Stonebroke Right on the Money (Benlow), a Sealyham terrier, does an awful lot of winning at big shows.

No question, whoever wins the terrier group will have the best shot for Best in Show. A representative of that group has won Best in Show 44 times at the Garden, more than any other group. Interestingly, two of America’s most popular breeds, the Labrador and golden retrievers, have never won Best in Show at Westminster Dog Show.


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