Dodger, a Smooth Fox Terrier and the top-ranked purebred dog of 2010, is the favorite to win the main prize at next week’s Westminster Kennel Club show in New York.
Dodger won 74 American Kennel Club pageants last year, more than any other dog. He’s co-owned by Howard Hoffen, the chairman and chief executive of Metalmark Capital, a buyout firm Citigroup Inc. acquired three years ago.
The Smooth Fox Terrier is the 6-1 favorite breed at the show, according to John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas.
“He’s beautiful,” said Karen LeFrak, wife of New York real-estate developer Richard LeFrak and owner of champion standard poodles. “Even if you’re competing against a breed that’s not yours, you recognize quality.”
LeFrak spoke at a Westminster press event Thursday in a ballroom at the Hotel Pennsylvania, across 7th Avenue from Madison Square Garden, home of the show. Six breeds newly recognized by Westminster were introduced. That makes for 179 breeds and varieties at this year’s two-day competition, which begins Monday.
The most irresistible newbie was the Leonberger, a furry mass with a black mask -- a combination Saint Bernard, Newfoundland and Great Pyrenees.
“Unlike those breeds, these guys don’t drool,” said Jean Boggie, standing with her 110-pound Leonberger, Gigi.
An Icelandic Sheepdog, another new entrant, showed its soft side by licking the face of an Associated Press photographer as she closed in for a tight shot.
Although any dog can triumph among the 2,600 competing, newly introduced breeds are seldom factors because judges are less familiar with them. David Frei, Westminster’s director of communications, said he’s not aware of a new breed ever taking the best-in-show award in its first year.
In the first round, Dodger faces off against other Smooth Fox Terriers, as to who best conforms to breed standard detailed on the American Kennel Club website.
(It’s probably for the best that Smooth Fox Terriers can’t read the 1,600-word stipulation, which includes, for example, a requirement that the stern “should be set on rather high, and carried gaily, but not over the back or curled, docked to leave about three quarters of the original length of the tail. It should be of good strength, anything approaching a “Pipestopper” tail being especially objectionable.”)
Dodger’s first-round won’t be a walk in the park. The 10th-ranked dog of any breed is also a Smooth Fox Terrier, Adam, who won 25 shows last year.
Dodger co-owner Phillip Booth was upbeat about the rival threat: “The figures speak for themselves -- We have three times the best-in-shows and twice the total dog defeats,” he said by phone. “Dodger has set a lot of records and broken a lot of tail.”
The 2010 Westminster winner was the top-ranked dog going in: Sadie, a Scottish terrier. Top-ranked dogs last won in consecutive years in 1997 and 1998.
“Campaigning a dog,” as dog people describe the national circuit, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dodger competed in about 175 shows in 2010. To raise his profile higher, his owners advertised him in the triumvirate of doggy media --Canine Chronicle, Dog News and Dogs in Review.
An ad inside Canine Chronicle costs as much as $1,900, according to its website, with the back cover commanding $3,500. Citigroup’s Hoffen didn’t return a call and e-mail to discuss Dodger’s campaign.
Team Dodger also maintains an elaborate website, with photographs from his best in shows since November 2008 and videos of his triumphs.
Robin Tomasi, Dodger’s Idaho-based advertising strategist and webmaster, described the champion as affectionate and a “great snuggler.”
“But when it’s time to show, he’s all business,” she said.