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On Dec. 16 in Orlando, "Whiskey" became the first Whippet to win Best in Show at the AKC National Championship.

Whiskey is typically an acquired taste. But at the largest-ever AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin on December 15 and 16, judges and spectators alike toasted a 3-year-old Whippet by that name who went all the way to Best in Show under judge Elliott B. Weiss.

The First Whippet Winner

Platinum Grand Champion Pinnacle Tennessee Whiskey, as he is formally known, is the first Whippet to win the flagship AKC event, beating contenders from 49 states and 21 countries in the biggest show ever won by a Whippet in AKC history. Whiskey also topped the Best Bred-By-Exhibitor competition – only the second time that’s happened in the show’s history – shown by his breeder-owner-handler, Justin Smithey of Sugar Valley, Georgia.

“It’s the pinnacle of anyone’s career in dogs to be recognized by such knowledgeable dog people from all different breeds and backgrounds,” Smithey says. “And it means even more when you’re showing a dog who was born next to your bed.”

Whiskey – who is co-owned by veterinarian Dr. Ken Latimer and Cheslie Smithey and co-bred by Yvonne Sovereign – has been on a roll, winning the prestigious Philadelphia Kennel Club Show this November and ending 2018 as the nation’s top hound. And within his own breed, he’s also defied the odds: In a sport where male dogs usually dominate, top-ranked Whippets in recent years have almost always been females. (More proof of that girl power in the Whippet world: The winner of the popular AKC Royal Canin National All-Breed Puppy and Junior Stakes was Aperture I Think I’m Going To Like It Here, a female Whippet known as “Lizzie,” selected after some deliberation by AKC CEO Dennis Sprung, and long-time judges Edd Bivin and Elliott Weiss.)

Who Were the Other Contenders?

Back in the main ring, Reserve Best in Show was awarded to Silver Grand Champion Sammantic Querida, a German-bred Samoyed who nonetheless goes by the Spanish nickname “Querida”; she is owned and bred by Barbara Bruns and Wolfgang Stamp.

The other five contenders in the Best in Show ring were “Kevin” the Weimaraner (Silver Grand Champion Nani Breica N Crosswinds Aloha); “Isaac” the Norwich Terrier (Gold Grand Champion Roserock’s My Eyes Adored You); “Biggie” the Pug (Platinum Grand Champion Hill Country’s Puttin’ On The Ritz); “Princeton” the French Bulldog (Platinum Grand Champion Le Petit Prince De La Bete) and “Slick” the Border Collie (Platinum 2 Grand Champion Majestic Elite Clever Endeavor PT).

Beyond Best in Show

While the Whiskey-laced Best in Show was the highlight of this year’s AKC gathering, its other conformation competitions drew plenty of attention, too. In Junior Showmanship, for handlers from nine to 18 years old, Mary Claire Ctibor with her Irish Setter Silver Grand Champion Beaubriar’s Best Kept Secret earned not just the Best Junior Handler ribbon, but also a $2,000 scholarship. Best in Miscellaneous Group, in which the AKC’s on-the-cusp-of-recognition breeds compete, went to Starfire’s B’ Anya, who is an Azawakh, a gothic Sighthound breed with mega-elongated proportions: Think of a suitcase set on its short side.

Some of the competitions at the AKC National Championship celebrate team efforts. At AKC Meet the Breeds®, breed clubs set up decorated booths in which members of the public met and interacted with their dogs. This year, the Keeshonds took Best Booth in Show with a windmill- and tulip-dotted backdrop that celebrated their barge dog’s Dutch roots.

The much-coveted AKC Breeder of the Year award was presented to Kent Boyles and Liz Oster of Kenlyn/Marquis German Shepherd Dogs. Like Smithey with Whiskey, Boyles is a breeder-owner-handler who went Best in Show in Orlando in 2015 with a female Shepherd named “Rumor.”

Fittingly, the AKC show also hosted the kennel club’s National Owner-Handled Series Finals Best in Show, which went to “Vogue” the Bedlington Terrier; his acronym-loaded registered name, Gold Grand Champion Lamz Strike A Pose, RN, CAA, CGC, TKN, tells you he’s plenty busy outside the ring, too.

Sit, Jump, Splash

Speaking of performance events, the National Championship also hosted the AKC Obedience Classic and the AKC Agility Invitational, bringing the show’s total entries to a whopping 9,023.


At the AKC Obedience Classic, four dogs – one for each competition level, or class – emerged victorious. Those first-place winners were “Dallas” the Border Collie (Grand Champion Rising Star’s Rhinestones and Spurs CD BN RN) in the Novice class, along with three Golden Retrievers: “Riot” (High Times Quiet Riot CDX PCD BN) in the Open class; “Journey” (Half Moon Irresistable Impulse UD RN) in the Utility class; and “Circus” (OTCH Topbrass The Greatest Show on Earth UDX8 OGM BN GN) in the Masters class.


Over at the AKC Agility Invitational, five dogs darted, jumped and weaved their way to victory in the various height categories – eight, 12, 16, 20 and 24 inches, representing how high the dogs are required to jump. The first-placers were, respectively: “Zoom” the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (MACH2 Kayangee Wishing Well Excuse My Dust MXG MJC); “Tammy” the Miniature Schnauzer (MACH5 PACH2 Tear Em Up Tammy Trinity MXS2 MJG2 MXP8 MXPG MJP11 MJPC PAX2 MFG TQX MFP); “Mysti” the Border Collie (MACH16 Hob Nob Mystic Flame MXS4 PDG MJG4 PJG MXF TQX T2B5); “Decoy” the Labrador Retriever (MACH7 Bak In Blak’s Man In Motion MXG2 PAD MJC2 PJD MFS TQX T2B3) and “Jif” the Weimaraner (MACH4 Pm’s Grayquest Wild Blue Yonder CD JH MXS2 PAD MJS2 PJS MFB TQX T2B4). Enough acronyms for you?

Dock Diving

A perennial crowd pleaser at the AKC National Championship is the dock-diving competition – who doesn’t love to watch dogs sail through the air and land with a joyous belly flop? North America Diving Dogs drew a record entry of more than 690 for its NADD/AKC National Championship, and here, as in the big ring, a Whippet made his mark: “Sounders” not only won the Open Class Elite Division, but his jump of 33 feet and six inches unofficially broke the world record for dock diving, with video of the jump sent into Guinness headquarters for official recognition.

Junior Winners

As in conformation, the American Kennel Club offers special recognition to young people who compete with their dogs in obedience, agility and AKC Rally®, which is a more relaxed version of obedience.

Juniors Obedience & Rally

Based on highest combined scores from two rounds of obedience with two Rally classes, plus bonus points, the winners were Burlynne Mejeris and “Cooler” the Australian Shepherd (Soundtrack’s Cooler Nights) in Beginner Novice plus Rally; Cassandra Didelot and “Ruby” the Labrador Retriever (Ruby Red Didelot BN RN) in Preferred Novice plus Rally; and Abigail Stark and “Fuji” the Shetland Sheepdog (Drumlin’s Fuji Made for Pictures CDX BN GN RE) in Preferred Open plus Rally. (The latter also won the Top Combined Obedience & Rally Junior Award.)

Juniors Agility

In the AKC Juniors Agility Competition, the first-placers in the various Junior Excellent height divisions were “Fern” the Papillon (Ch. MACH2 Amoure Beau’s In The Quiet Woods MXS MJG MXP2 MJP2), handled by Danielle Wagner (8 inches); “Shadow” the Shetland Sheepdog (MACH2 Blue Shadow On The Lake MXS MJS NF CGC TKP) handled by Morgan Vance (12 inches); followed by a trio of Border Collies, who so often dominate the agility ribbons: “Spark” (MACH2 Wyndspell Fireworks UD RAE2 MXS MJS MXF T2B TKA), handled by Avery Adams (16 inches); “Bandit”(Bandit CDX RE AX AXJ OF), handled by Ryan Klamm (20 inches); and “Savvy” (Winthrop Savvy AX AXJ XF), handled by Andrew Clark (24 inches).

In the Junior Superior classes, the winners of those corresponding height divisions were, respectively: “Razi” the Russell Terrier (MACH8 Razi MXC2 MJB3 MFS TQX T2B SWN CGCA) handled by Briana Sterling; “Sulley” the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (MACH7 Rhapsody’s Enchanting Monster MXG2 MJG2), handled by Carly Kreiser; “Flint” the Border Collie (Liberty Hill Emit A Spark RN OA OAJ CGC TKI), handled by Ryan Ford; “Harley” the Border Collie (MACH Orionwildthing CDX MXS MJS XF T2B2), handled by Faith Beauchemin; and “Bentlee” the Golden Retriever (Bentlee Sawhney CD BN RE NAP NJP NFP CGC TKN), handled by Jada Sawhney.

What’s Next for Whiskey?

As for fellow Whippet, Whiskey, Smithey says he will take a break from full-time showing in 2019, coming out only for specialties and marquee shows such as Westminster, where last year he placed fourth in the Hound Group. Chances are his biggest competition at the Garden this time around will be his sister, who won the American Whippet Club show in 2018, as he did the year before, making them the only Whippet littermates in AKC history to both win a national specialty.

And that sister’s name?

Dramatic pause, accompanied by the gentle clink of ice cubes.

Bourbon, of course.

You can watch Whiskey’s big win, and the competition leading up to it on AKC.TV.