King for a lifetime: Wire fox terrier named Westminster's best in show

A wire fox terrier named King is America’s top canine after earning the title of best in show on Tuesday night in a Westminster Kennel Club dog show touched by eleventh-hour controversy.

The crowd at Madison Square Garden seemed almost taken aback when judge Peter Green revealed his verdict over a pair of overwhelmingly popular favorites: a longhaired dachshund looking to break a centuries-spanning hoodoo and a charismatic Sussex spaniel back in the final ring for the second year in a row.

Maybe they shouldn’t have been: the outcome marked the 15th time a wire fox captured the highest prize in the 143-year history of the country’s most prestigious dog show, more than any other breed by a wide margin. Scottish terriers, the second most frequent winner, have triumphed eight times at the oldest continuously held sporting event in the United States after the Kentucky Derby.

“Overwhelming,” said Gabriel Rangel, the veteran California handler who steered King to the sweetest of his 47 overall best in show titles. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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King became the 15th wire fox terrier to be named best in show at the Westminster dog show.

The poised seven-year-old from Brazil with the lustrous coat, whose official champion’s name is Kingarthur Van Foliny Home, was the last dog standing after a winnowing-down process that began on Monday morning with nearly 2,800 entries in 203 breeds and varieties hailing from all 50 states and 14 other countries, including Russia, Mexico, Canada and Japan.

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On a bitterly cold Tuesday night, he won the crown over a stacked field of five other group winners, among them a Havanese named Bono (awarded reserve best in show), a bouvier des Flandres named Baby Lars and a boxer named Wilma. A fourth, the crowd-pleasing Burns , was attempting to become the first dachshund to win best in show since the breed was first entered in 1877. Another, the spaniel Bean, won the sporting group for a second consecutive year only to again be pipped at the final hurdle.

Burns

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Crowd favorite Burns, who was attempting to become the first dachshund of any variety to win best in show at Westminster, was denied in the final ring. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The dramatic coronation was preceded by a spot of controversy as a seventh contender expected to compete for the big prize – Colton the schipperke, named best in the non-sporting group on Monday – was declared ineligible right before start of Tuesday’s night session due to a conflict of interest: the arbiter Green’s longtime partner has co-owned dogs with one of Colton’s co-owners.

Yet Colton’s best in breed and best in group wins remained intact and he was allowed to make a lap of honor with the final septet before he was excused from the ring.

The schipperke’s handler, Christa Cook, stepped aside gracefully in a Facebook post shortly after the disqualification was announced: “We do not wish to diminish or detract from this great event, in this amazing venue, on this very special evening, therefore we will not participate in this evening’s Best In Show to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

Said a club spokesperson in a statement issued midway through Tuesday’s group judging: “These types of things happen at dog shows and the rules are such to maintain the integrity of the sport.”

Rangel, who was overcome with emotion in the immediate aftermath of King’s victory, has now helmed three Westminster best in show winners after Sadie the Scottie in 2010 and another wire fox named Sky in 2014. That’s one fewer than the all-time record of four shared by Green himself, the Welsh native and legendary handler who retired into judging in 2006.

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Following Wednesday’s media blitz – a whirlwind itinerary that includes a visit to morning chat show Fox & Friends, a photo op atop the Empire State Building, the traditional lunch at Sardi’s and, possibly, a walk-on part in the Broadway musical Pretty Woman – King will at least temporarily resume life as a dog with owner Victor Malzoni Jr at his Hampton Court kennel outside São Paulo.

“After you win this magnificent show there’s really nothing else to win,” Rangel said. “He should be running around in a field of grass.”

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