People have asked. Each year the two-day event is held at Madison Square Garden, which can trace its birth back to this famous canine carnival. The first "First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs" (1877) was held in the old depot at Madison Square, known at the time as Gilmore's Garden (formerly P.T. Barnum's Hippodrome).
According to Miriam Berman's Madison Square, "...it was in fact one of the canine show's executives, W.M. Tileston, who in 1878 picked up Gilmore's expired lease and kept the arena functioning by booking a variety of sports such as tennis, archery, and riding...Cornelius Vanderbilt had died in 1877, leaving his son William K. Vanderbilt with, among other holdings, the properties of the old depot on Madison Square. The younger Vanderbilt decided he would continue to rent the premises to various specialty shows, such as the circus and dog shows, but the main use of the complex would be as an athletic center. He officially renamed the arena Madison Square Garden, combining the name of the park, 'Madison Square,' with the 'Garden' of Gilmore's venture, and reopened it Memorial Day 1879."
Named after the hotel at whose bar sporting gentlemen met to boast about their shooting and their dogs, the Westminster Kennel Club was formed in the 1870's, helped stage a dog show in Philadelphia in 1876 and officially inaugurated the pageant of pooches in New York with 1,201 dogs in 1877.
This means that they have been handing out this top prize longer than the Academy Awards (1927), the Pulitzers (1917), and the Nobels (1901). I've heard it said that it's the oldest continuously held sporting event; however, a quick search showed me that the Kentucky Derby was inaugurated in 1875. There's also the America's Cup (1851) and the National Jousting Hall of Fame (1821). And then, of course, there's this which claims to be the world's oldest recorded sporting event--it held its TRICENTENNIAL in May of 2008.
I've attended the show twice, spending the afternoons watching the Best in Breed events and returning at night for the Best in Group and Best in Show. I had so many favorite moments, including the victory of J.R., the Bichon Frise pictured here whose white fur glowed inside that arena, but I'm slightly ashamed to say that I most loved whenever the announcer, with the poshest of accents, would introduce one of the female dogs: "Florence is a three-year-old bitch." That NEVER grew old. I would laugh, laugh, laugh (like a three-year-old idiot), but I think that the tension had something to do with it. When the judge walks up and down the line of contestants, you can hear a pin drop and feel your heart thudding in your chest. It is freakish.
The oldest dog ever to win Best in Show at Westminster.
Stump (aka Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) is a ten-year-old Sussex spaniel who was representing the SPORTING GROUP.
Stump first won the Sporting Group in 2004 (before four of the other finalists were even born) and then fell sick with a mysterious and near-fatal illness that required a nineteen-day stay at Texas A&M's veterinary hospital. But the champ (winner of 50 Best in Shows) not only survived but came back this year to reclaim the Group title and then take the whole shebang, beating out 2500 other dogs.
Stump is the first Sussex spaniel to win at Westminster.
And let's not forget the two dogs who won their groups yesterday and competed with Stump and Mondays' winners in last night's Final Seven.
Before the winner is announced tonight, let's remember 2008's winner, Uno the beagle, surely one of the most popular. According to the Westminster website:
"Uno" becomes the first Westminster winner to be invited to the White House, visiting President and Mrs. Bush in May, and later visits Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the capital in Austin. He rings the bell to open the NASDAQ market, throws out the first pitch at major league baseball games in Milwaukee and St. Louis, is a celebrity headliner at various events, and visits children, soldiers, and other patients in hospitals and health care facilities around the country. In November, he rides on the Peanuts/United Media float in the world-famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I attended the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Showa couple times and can vouch for the absurd, throat-clenching tension you feel in the audience and the effusive adoration and reverent worship for the competing dogs. I remember the giant white fluffy face of a bichon frise frozen high above us on the jumbotron watching over us all, like a canine deity, as we left the Garden. From all reports, this year was one of the most exciting. The crowd favorite, a beagle named Uno, who barked and bayed and jumped and tried to bite his leash, won Best in Show over the obligatory toy poodle (this one with over 200 championships to its name). It was the first time since the 1980's that a dog from the Hound Group won; the first time since the 1930's that the Hound Group was represented by a beagle; and the first time ever that a beagle won Best in Show, even though the breed has been one of the ten most popular breeds since 1915.
(of course, because you can't have a Best in Show without the poofy poodle)
Champion Randenn Tristar Affirmation (female).
TRIVIA--This dog was born thirteen years after its father!!!!! She's a petri dish poodle who is being treated like a messiah!!! She's had hundreds of puppies!!!!! AAAAAAAA!!!!!! (I just heard this on NPR while typing this entry.)
Champion Cordmaker Field of Dreams (male).
These are the dogs that look like mops. I like them but wonder what it would feel like to pet them.
So here are the first four...two males, two females.
The first four finalists are also all black or gray--that might help a golden retriever should that breed win its group tonight. Am I right?