NEW YORK – Barking and baying, a precocious beagle called Uno took his first winning steps at Westminster. Uno easily took the best of breed Monday at America’s No. 1 dog show, bounding around the ring and trying to grab the lead out of handler Aaron Wilkerson’s hand.
“Snoopy would be proud,” Wilkerson said.
A perfectly trimmed toy poodle, a top Sealyham terrier and prize-winning Akita were among the 2,627 entries. The dogs came in 169 breeds and varieties, and there were four newly sanctioned types — the Tibetan mastiff, Beauceron, Swedish vallhund and Plott.
Tri-colored and nearly 3, Uno moved into Monday night’s judging in the hound group. While best in show will be presented Tuesday night, the playful 15-inch beagle certainly earned one title at Madison Square Garden: noisiest in show.
Uno sounded off every chance he got and clearly became the early crowd favorite, wagging his white-tipped tail and taking a flying leap at one of Wilkerson’s cooked pork loin treats.
“He was being his merry little hound self,” Wilkerson said.
While the movie “Underdog” was a big winner last year, a beagle is always a long shot on the Garden’s green carpet.
The best in show award has been presented 100 times by the Westminster Kennel Club and a beagle has never won. Part of the problem is the breed’s engaging, friendly nature.
“Great show dogs often have an air about them. It’s like this is their world and we’re just living in it,” Westminster TV host David Frei said. “But beagles want to be in our world.”
They also have another disadvantage: They’re far from the fancy-cut, froufrou dogs that often win.
“To some, a beagle may not look as spectacular as the Afghan hound, flying around the ring with all that hair,” Frei said.
With pleading, golden-brown eyes and plenty of tail-wagging personality, Uno could break out of the Westminster doghouse. No beagle has even won the hound group since 1939.
“To have the general public see an average dog going and competing and actually winning would send a signal that everyone can do it,” said Eddie Dziuk, one of Uno’s co-owners.
Uno came with his favorite stuffed frog toy and the fluffy pillow he sleeps on, the one with a Hollywood star. His official name is K-Run’s Park Me in First, and he bested 12 other entries in the 15-inch category.
Beagles also come in the 13-inch variety, though both types can come from the same litter. In show parlance, Uno is a “big beagle.”
Judge J. Donald Jones, former a dean at Emory University, will point to his choice as the champion right before 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Uno already has earned 32 best in show titles, and finished 2007 as the sixth-ranked show dog in the country. He took the hound group at the AKC/Eukanuba show in December.
A Sealyham terrier with a gray splotch over his left eye won that big competition in Long Beach, Calif. Called Charmin, he wound up as the No. 4 dog last year.
Also in contention will be a neatly primped white toy poodle born in Japan. Vikki has won 83 best in show ribbons and enters as the nation’s top dog.
An Akita that reached the best in show ring last year in New York will return. Missing will be James, an English springer spaniel who retired after winning last February.
USA Network and CNBC will split the coverage the first night, with USA doing the second night alone. Frei was hesitant to pick a favorite, though he did offer a prediction.
“What better choice could there be to win America’s dog show than an all-American dog?” he said. “A beagle winning would bring down the house.”
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