Something to bark about: Canadian-trained dog wins big prize in New York
TORONTO - In the dog show world, it's a prize worth barking about.
A canine trained in Canada beat out an American champ at what's called the Stanley Cup of dog shows and is already setting his sights on his next big win.
Ace, a sleek black cocker spaniel, surprised spectators when he took the "best in variety" title at the Westminister Kennel Club Show in New York City on Tuesday, triumphing over a competitor who was crowned the event's top dog last year.
Now, his Canadian handler is hoping the big prize will spur him on to break the record for the most "best-in-show" awards in his breed this year — he's won 21 such titles so far and the current record sits at 29.
"That's my personal goal for Ace this year," his handler Marlene Ness told The Canadian Press.
The two-year-old dog's most recent title is a significant one.
It was Ace's first time at the prestigious event held at New York's Madison Square Garden and his title pulled the rug out from under those who expected a competitor — another black cocker spaniel named Beckham — to win hands down.
"It's definitely the top of the list for accomplishments for Ace," said Ness, a Brantford, Ont., resident who handles Ace for his American owners.
"I didn't go there expecting to win. I just thought if I could go there and if Ace could perform well and he could make everybody happy ... we would be thrilled with that."
The awarding of the title itself was preceded by some tense moments.
Crowd favourite Beckham initially drew all the cheers, but fans sensing an upset later began yelling for Ace as a judge studied both dogs intently before making his choice.
"It was very overwhelming," Ness said. "But on this day Ace was the judge's choice ... He just felt that Ace had a little bit more breed type than the other dogs."
The event's overall best-in-show prize this year went to a silver and white Pekingese named Malachy.
While Ace's win was a big one, the unflappable spaniel is no stranger to the dog show circuit.
Last year, he ranked eighth among all breeds in Canada and was shown for 25 weekends, which amounts to half the show year, said Ness.
With weekly baths, regular grooming and mandatory pre-show fluffings of his shiny coat, combined with plenty of time on the road, the life of a show dog can be a rigorous one. But Ace handles it with patience and aplomb, said Ness.
"He just goes with it," she said. "He's like a little person ... As long as he's around us, or he can see us, he's happy."
After a short rest, Ace will be back in the show ring later this week with an engagement in Markham, Ont.
For now though, he's kicking back to enjoy his recent win.
On a Facebook page where Ness takes on Ace's persona, his fans have been updated on the dog's latest win.
"My people tell me that was a very BIG thing," Ace's status update said. "But I was just happy to get my chicken and have all these people taking my picture...they always tell me I'm beautiful."