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USA - NATIONAL Specialty, RACINE, 1996
Steve Tillotson
Page 1

Editor Note - I wrote these notes way back in 1996. An intention was to convey a word picture to my UK friends of my experience/observations of the Afghan Hound in the USA, hence my references to US/UK differences and some explanations on both systems in the report.

10,000 Miles - I learnt that Jim Hickie (Gengala Afghans - Australia) was visiting the UK whilst I was scheduled to be in the US and that I therefore would miss meeting him. As luck would have it, Jim was also due to attend the National at Racine - so I altered my schedule (originally limited to California/Texas) in order to meet up with Jim at Racine. I guess I am a bit crazy flying 6000 miles west, then flying back east 2000 miles the next day, then flying 2000 miles west again two days later. At least I got to see (from the sky) Kansas City, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Phoenix (took a budget route..) as well as day 3 (bitches), day 4 (intersex/best of breed) at the National, and (of course) meeting up with Jim.

What Afghans did I get to see? - My host in California owns two Afghans of Taco and Red Cloud breeding - so I lived with a couple of US Afghans for a period. Another friend in California with whom I spent time operates a rescue organisation and has several Afghans, some rescue, some she exhibits, including a Sankhya x Gengala (Australia) bitch. She also has a new puppy by Ch Boannes Heart N Soul x Ch Nazira's Edge Of Night. I also visited a friend near Monterey (California) who has US bred Afghans and some Dutch/German bred hounds. I attended the National Specialty - about 300 Afghans on show (I did not see them all as I was only able to attend the last two days) , and also attended the Northern California Afghan Club's Specialty, where there were about 80 Afghans on show. So I guess I saw around 250 Afghans, mainly from, the Midwest and some in the Wild West. The initial question is how typical of the breed in the US is this sample? I was informed at the National that there were a large proportion of Midwest bred Afghans at Racine, and with Mrs Canalizo judging there were obviously no Grandeur exhibits present. The California show largely involved west coast bred dogs but there were quite a number bred elsewhere in the US. I will have to assume these 250 Afghans I saw were reasonably representative of the breed in the US, but I do acknowledge that I probably missed seeing some important Afghans and gaining a fuller experience.

Racine, Wisconsin, National Afghan Specialty (Scene Setting) - Situated alongside Lake Michigan in a large exhibition hall with a cathedral shaped ceiling festooned with lights and with AHCA pennants hanging down - colourful and atmospheric. Entering the hall, the large carpeted ring (perhaps 60ft square), was directly ahead. Exhibitors and their equipment were set up along the top wall and along parts of two other walls, forming a "U" shape around the ring. Two/three lines of seating were arranged round the ring for the spectators, with more opposite the Announcer's platform. At the back wall end of the ring were the Judges' table and a raised centrepiece and feature which exhibited the prizes to be won. It also served as a "stage" or platform from which commentaries and announcements were made. Around the remaining "U" (top end of ring) shape and behind the Judges table there were a number of trade stands and the Show Superintendent's table. In the two top corners of the ring, two professional video/cameras (with professional operators) were set up to record the event. To the side there was an ante-room, or perhaps best called a hospitality area, where the AHCA laid on food/drink throughout the day. Adjacent to the hospitality area there was a small presentation room where various meetings/presentations were held during the four days of the show. Upon arrival (around 9.30am with junior handler judging scheduled for 10am and bitch judging scheduled for 10.15am) all the exhibitors' crates were already in place and many could be seen preparing their hounds.

Observation and comment - In the UK, most Championship shows provide benching for the Afghans which is arranged in exhibitor/alphabetic name order. Basically, it is wooden trestles with wooden partitions, providing individual cubicles of about a metre (or worse, less!) square for each exhibit. There is usually a small separate area ringed off as a grooming area, although, subject to the show and space between aisles of benching, UK exhibitors may also set grooming tables up close to their bench. A feature of UK benching is that you are arranged alphabetically and cannot choose where you want to set up. hounds are kept in crates laid into the benches, or wire gates fitted to the front of the benches, or hounds are just restrained by a benching chain. By contrast, at US shows exhibitors set up wherever they wished within the designated areas and could situate themselves adjacent to friends, etc. The designated space was not over-generous and the exhibitors were all very close up. My first observation is that despite this closeness of exhibitors' hounds being in the grooming area, there were no incidents of growling or threatening behaviour between hounds which were often nose to nose. I was impressed by this which implies very good temperaments in US exhibited Afghans. Second observation, power cables were laid on the floor for the exhibitors to use for their dryers. This facility is rarely available at UK shows and its unusual to see a UK exhibitor with a dryer at a show. Third observation, compared to the isolationist/coldness of the UK's formal benching, the closeness of exhibitors was almost intimate - and there was a very pleasant atmosphere apparent amongst them. We do get shows in the UK where benching is not provided and we have to set up similar to the US . However I still feel there was a spirit of "a community" apparent in the Racine set-up with perhaps more contact and dialogue between exhibitors than is apparent in the UK. The layout of the hall, the decoration (pennants, lights, raised feature of prizes/commentary platform), the food/drink facilities (also provided at the California show), the "community" arrangement (also at the California show) of grooming areas all contributed to making the event feel like a show/something special even before judging started. As I said earlier, it was atmospheric and this added to the enjoyment. When you add to this the spectacle of the hounds (and handlers) themselves, the enthusiastic (perhaps somewhat exuberant at times) applause/participation of the audience, music (more on this later) it really did feel like a show - again, something special. We're not a gloomy lot in the UK, and some shows succeed in achieving a good atmosphere - but I guess the US Afghan world excel at making the show a real event. I'll return to this aspect again later in this report.

Veterans Parade - Day 4 saw the "parade of veterans". The veterans were sent round the ring to some very upbeat music. (I think the music was put together by Sharon Pearce, show co-chairman). The audience clapped and applauded non-stop to the beat of the music as each hound was exhibited. This enthusiasm was simply infectious, a very memorable occasion. (As an aside, I discussed this "enthusiasm" with a friend who attended San Diego. They laughed and explained that the "Brits and Europeans" initially sat somewhat passively, seemingly determined to maintain their traditional "reserve". However, just like in Racine, the enthusiasm was so infectious the Europeans ended up applauding with equal gusto to the home spectators).

Judging - Exhibits wait outside the ring and are called in individually in ring numerical/catalogue order by a steward. They pass the Judge (who gets a first look at them), run round three sides of the ring and stop. This happens for each exhibit - so each exhibit gets an initial solo pass by the judge and solo entry into the ring. Once all the exhibits are lined up along the fourth side of the ring, the judge arranges them in a line around the ring, or splits them into groups, if there are too many to line up all at once. The judge calls up each exhibit, goes over the exhibit with hands, checking conformation points etc., then sends the exhibit diagonally up and down the ring, then on a circuit or two of the ring. Next the exhibits are run round the ring together with the judge pulling into the centre of the ring the exhibits she wants to keep for the next stage. When "the cut" is made, the departing exhibits are sent round the ring one final time and leave the ring with a flourish and to applause from the audience. I do like the US practice of excused dogs doing a "lap of honour" to applause after the cut. The hounds leave the ring, stylishly and with pride. By comparison, in the UK, excused dogs are led out of the ring by their handlers, via the nearest exit (Eg. out and under the ringside ropes, through the chairs and spectators), and there is an air of "rejection" in their departure, which the US lap of honour exit style avoids.

Back to the US - selected dogs are then further examined and/or run round the ring, sometimes individually, sometimes in pairs, sometimes, as a group and the judge then makes her final selections of winner and other placings. This was the sequence in general. However, when it came to day 4 (intersex/best of breed) there were over 70 exhibits all in the ring at the same time for best of breed judging. They each made a solo entry - and this was a thrill because there were so many exciting dogs to watch making an often spectacular entry into the ring, supported by enthusiastic applause from the audience. With the best of breed class, once all the hounds had had their solo run, they were lined up in four lines which consisted of three lines of mles and one line of females. I think this was for a group photograph. Again, temperament and behaviour of the exhibits was excellent throughout. After the group line-up, three lines were sent out and the judge proceeded to judge the first line (males) , in the routine described above with a cut of selected/excused dogs. Again, the excused dogs were sent out of the ring in a flourish and to enthusiastic applause from the audience. This was repeated for all four groups and the first overall cut had been made. The remaining exhibits were put into groups again and a second cut made after the exhibits had been run round again. This left us with a final group from which the judge selected her winners. Undoubtedly there were some truly great Afghans in this final group. I was concentrating on two in particular and trying to decide which one of them was going to win. Suddenly, in fact so much so it caught me unawares, the judge pulled out her best of breed (Ch Regency) and immediately following this her best of winners, best of opposite sex and her five awards of merit. This happened so fast, the result was over before you could blink. Noting that the purpose of the exercise is to come up with a B.O.B and a Best Of Opposite as well as Best of Winners. In this instance the latter two awards went to the same exhibit - a rare occurance, particularly at this level..

At this point I wish to say a particular thank you to Jim Hickie It was both a pleasure and an education to sit ringside with him for two days, to share commentary with him about the Afghans as well as having had the fun of Jim introducing me to so many of the US Afghan hound people. Thank you Jim..

Observation and Comment - In terms of ring procedure and how the Judge goes about his/her task the US/UK systems have similarities (the classes/awards/championship systems are different. The US practice of each exhibit making a solo entry past the judge and into the ring and the practice of excused dogs running round and out in a flourish to applause does not happen in the UK. Personally, I liked both of these aspects and would be pleased to see them introduced here in the UK. I guess a practical problem is time. In the UK we can get entries of up to 300 Afghans and sometimes have to share a ring (at General Championship Shows) with other breeds during the day. Breed judging in the UK is completed in a single day, dogs, bitches and best of breed, so the extra time taken for each exhibit to have a solo run into the ring, in certain circumstances, could prove problematic..

Classes/Awards - In the US, there are "Sweepstakes Events" and "Regular" classes, the former not contributing points towards the title of Champion but offering prize money, the latter being the classes where championship points are gained. I think that the Sweepstakes are better called "events", not "classes", since I understand that the "classes" are the entry classifications based on age, experience, breeding, etc. for a given show. The Sweepstakes is functionally a separate show, which can be separately entered, and which has a different judge - most often the equivalent of a "junior" judge in the UK - sort of a "puppies only" practice run for everyone. I think it is important to note that the sweepstakes only permit entries of hounds 6 months or older, and under 18 months. The sweepstakes show is usually held just before or just after the main show, and always (I think) in conjunction with a Regular show. In the UK, we do not have sweepstakes classes at Afghan Specialities (Breed Club Shows), or at General Championship Shows, although we do have "Stakes" classes at General Championship shows for "Any Variety", i.e. mixed breed stakes classes..


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