Wednesday, February 12, 2003

'Mick' wins mantle of best in show

Kerry blue terrier captures Triple Crown

By Ben Walker
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - When it comes to Triple Crown winners in New York, there was only one Mick. That is, until a Kerry blue terrier came along. Mick the dog captured the only title he'd never won, walking away with best in show at Westminster on Tuesday night.

"I just wanted him to keep it together, and the rest was up to him," handler Bill McFadden said. "It was an awesome lineup."

Ch. Torums Scarf Michael, as the 6 1/2-year-old terrier is formally known, took the world's largest dog show, Crufts, at home in England in 2000 and won the major AKC/Eukanuba National Invitational Championship in December.

But he'd been upset the last two years on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden, mostly because he got too jumpy. This time, he posed perfectly and judge Irene Bivin rewarded him with the silver championship bowl at America's oldest and most prestigious show.

Triple Crowns are mostly associated with horse racing and baseball - the kind Mickey Mantle won playing for the New York Yankees in 1956.

But there hasn't been one in either sport for quite awhile. Affirmed was the last one to do it on the track, in 1978, and Carl Yastrzemski won the last one in the majors in 1967.

To get his triple, the terrier Mick beat out a handsome German shepherd, a popular Newfoundland and a slow-moving Pekingese that was primped to the nines.

Overall, Mick was picked as top dog among 2,603 entries in 159 breeds and varieties in the 127th Westminster Kennel Club event. He earned his 113th best in show lifetime.

A crowd of more than 10,000 saw Mick continue a string of terrier wins at Westminster. Terriers have won 43 of the 95 best in show titles presented.

While Bivin picked Mick, the fans had their own ideas about who should win. They cheered wildly when Dallas, the German shepherd, entered the ring and they kept up their whistles and clapping for Josh, the Newfoundland, and Les, the Pekingese.

But Bivin marked her judge's book, turned around with the ribbon in her hand and said Mick was the one.

Mick celebrated by wagging his tail, jumping on McFadden and leaping into a box that said best in show, as if to make sure everybody knew it was him.

"Even with a great dog, it is difficult to keep him on his game," McFadden said. "Any of the dogs could have won tonight."

There is no prize money for McFadden and Mick's owner, Marilu Hansen. But the prestige of being a Westminster winner will follow the dog through generations of offspring.

McFadden had cut back Mick's schedule the last year, taking him to only 41 events in a sport where top dogs may compete at 150 shows. Mick isn't quite ready to retire to a life of breeding, but he certainly won't be out campaigning every weekend.

Mick came to New York last year also as a heavy favorite, but got too excited and lost out to a miniature poodle called Surrey Spice Girl. A year before, he was beaten out by a bichon frise named J.R.

His main competition this time was from Dallas, whose handler, James Moses, had the only other Westminster win by a German shepherd - Manhattan in 1987.

But Moses knew ahead of time that this could be tough because Bivin was judging. Last year, she passed him over in the herding group for a Welsh corgi called Sammy Sosa.

Going into this week's two-day event, Moses even called the prospect of facing Bivin "a nightmare."

However, it wasn't a total loss for Dallas or his pups. His daughter won best of opposite sex and his son earned a merit award for his breed.

The rest of the best in show lineup included a lively Brittany. Called Jester, he was semiretired from show competition last year before making a comeback and repeating in the sporting group.

An Ibizan hound called Bunny was bidding to become the first of his breed to win at Westminster, and a standard poodle also made the final seven.

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