Westminster dog show 2012: Could a Dalmatian win it all? A Dachshund?
A Dalmatian and a Dachshund are group winners at the Westminster dog show 2012, but they are among dozens of breeds that have never won 'Best in Show.' Why that is.
There were 101 of them in the Disney movie, but not one has ever been "Best in Show" at the Westminster Kennel Club in New York.
Maybe this year.
A Dalmatian named Ian trotted to victory in the non-sporting group at this year's Westminster Kennel Club show, making him one of seven finalists for the top prize to be awarded on national TV Tuesday night.
The Dalmatian is just one among dozens of breeds that have never won in 103 years of "Best in Show" titles at the event.
If there's a conspiracy, it's not just against fast runners who sport white coats with dark spots. Other breeds that have never won range from the wildly popular (Golden Retriever) to the exotic (Lhasa Apso). More to come on them later.
The history of the show is that some breeds and groups are highly favored over others, measured by their winning percentages. Terriers may not often be considered tall dogs, but they tower over the competition with some 45 victories over the years.
But this year, the Dalmatian was joined Monday night by another group winner who, if she wins, would also be posting a first for her breed. A Dachshund (wire-haired, in this case) named Cinders won top honors in the hound group.
Do those titles give these two dogs, together, a 2 in 7 likelihood of ending up as "Best in Show"? It's more complicated than that. The show is decided by human judges, not a roll of the dice.
Judging by the show's long history, it looks as if dogs from the non-sporting group (with a 10-win track record) and the hound group (with just 4 wins) have low odds.
But the more recent history is more mixed. In the past 20 years, fully half the shows have been won by breeds notching their first title. At the same time, historic patterns at the group level have largely held sway, with terriers and sporting dogs like the English Setter accounting for 13 titles in the past two decades.
The non-sporting, hound, and working groups have each won just two titles during that period. The toy group has one title during that time, and the herding group zero.
Nothing against the Fox Terrier, but can Border Collies get some respect one of these years?
One mold-breaking moment came in 2008, when the spirited Uno became the first Beagle to win the show. But questions about judging bias, or simply judging imperfection, have persisted.
"In the last 10 years or so, I've only seen an Akita win Best in Group once in both shows [Westminster and Eukanuba] combined," wrote blogger and dog aficionado L. Lee Scott after an Akita was shunned to give Uno his 2008 win. "Does this mean that there are no Akitas that meet the breed standard? Hardly. What it means is that there are a lot of judges out there who don't completely understand what it takes for an Akita to meet its breed standards."
Another factor, even with no bias or flaws in the judging, is simple math. Dozens of breeds have never won, and the show gradually expands the number of breeds participating. Only one dog can win each year. Inevitably it will sometimes be a dog from a breed that has won before.
Here are some examples (not an exhaustive list) of breeds from each group that have never won the Westminster show:
Sporting: Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Spinone Italiano, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.
Hound: Basset Hound, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Saluki.
Working: Alaskan Malamute, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees. Oh, and also the Portuguese Water Dog, breed of President Obama's "first dog," Bo.
Terrier: Cairn Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.
Toy: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua (Long or Smooth Coat), Japanese Chin, Shih Tzu.
Non-sporting: Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Finnish Spitz, Schipperke.
Herding: Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Welsh Corgi (Cardigan or Pembroke), Shetland Sheepdog.
For at least six breeds, it's no surprise they've never won. They're new to the show this year: Xoloitzcuintli (fans call it "show-low"), the national dog of Mexico, Norwegian Lundehund, American English Coonhound, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Finnish Lapphund, and Cesky Terrier.
Ian the Dalmatian and Cinders the Dachshund will compete for the title against a Pekingese named Malachy, a German Shepherd named Captain Crunch, plus three other dogs who win the sporting, terrier, and working groups Tuesday night.
Last year, a Scottish Deerhound named Hickory became first of his breed to win.