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Talk about an intoxicating win.

Last month, Bourbon the Whippet left the 2020 AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin with a career-capping victory: Best in Show under judge James Moses at the AKC’s flagship show, held December 12 and 13 in Orlando, Florida.

The show, which is the largest in the country, aired on ABC on January 17 – its first time on network television.

Though her name predisposes her to a galaxy of libation-induced puns, GCHP Pinnacle Kentucky Bourbon has a soberingly impressive show record: With 108 career Bests in Show, she was the nation’s top hound for two years straight, and the number-two dog in the country last year. In the top slot was a certain Pekingese named Wasabi who won the AKC show as a dark horse in 2019.

But in Orlando last month the tables turned, with the squash-faced Peke – that’s GCHS Pequest Wasabi to you – taking Reserve Best in Show to the winning Whippet.

Which Dogs Competed For Best in Show?

The other contenders in the Best in Show ring were the Croatian-bred Lagotto Romagnolo Ch. Kan Trace Very Cheeky Chic, a first for this truffle-hunting breed; GCHP2 Cinnibon’s Bedrock Bombshell, the top-winning Boxer and number-three dog in the nation; Welsh Terrier GCHG Brightluck Money Talks, top terrier the last two years running; black Standard Poodle GCHB Hightide Tarquin Venus, who ended last year as the number two in her breed in breed points; and GCHS Stonehaven Bayshore Secret Sauce, the nation’s number-one Australian Shepherd and number-two Herding dog.

While victory can be fleeting, the same applies to competition in this pandemic-battered year, with hundreds of dog shows cancelled at seemingly every turn.

“It was such a strange year, with such strange circumstances,” says Bourbon’s handler and co-owner, Cheslie Pickett Smithey of Sugar Valley, Georgia, who wondered in the weeks leading up to the show if it, too, would suddenly be called off.

But the show did indeed go on, albeit with an abundance of caution: The event was not open to the public, with attendance strictly limited to exhibitors, judges, and production and event staff. Masks were mandated, and social distancing enforced. During the group and Best in Show competitions, the cavernous space was so empty “you could hear a pin drop,” remembers Cheslie, noting that her 5-year-old Whippet was unfazed. “Bourbon likes the crowd, but she also likes the quiet.”

Littermates: Whiskey & Bourbon

Getting accustomed to the spotlight was another matter for Cheslie, who grew up breeding and showing Papillons with her mother and ringside cheerleader Angela Pickett, then “married into” Whippets and Italian Greyhounds with husband Justin Smithey. While Cheslie had shown a couple of her homebred Papillons to Best in Show, she’d never before embarked on a full-fledged, two-year campaign with the goal of becoming one of the nation’s top dogs.

With her show-ring success, Bourbon followed a trail blazed by her littermate, Whiskey (GCHP Pinnacle Tennessee Whiskey), who himself won the AKC National Championship in 2018 and was top hound that same year, piloted by Justin. Both dogs have won the American Whippet Club National Specialty, the highest honor that can be bestowed in an individual breed.

Cheslie says while Whiskey was an obvious show prospect, catching Justin’s eye in the whelping box, Bourbon was a slow bloomer. Being a typical female Whippet, she was also a bit more complicated, preferring to show on her terms, so Cheslie exhibited her sporadically while Justin concentrated on Whiskey’s career.

When Whiskey retired after the 2018 National Championship, Cheslie says she wasn’t sure if she could take Bourbon to equally lofty heights. “Even up to Westminster time, I was still saying to Justin, ‘You could show her – she could do better with you.’” But he wouldn’t hear of it, protesting that there was already “a kind of energy and a bond” between the two that no one would be likely to replicate.

Turns out he was right: At that 2019 Westminster show, Bourbon bested her brother in the breed and took second place in the Hound Group. She and Cheslie returned the following year to pluck an even juicier plum – Reserve Best in Show.

Cheers to Bourbon

Bourbon is co-owned by veterinarian Ken Latimer of Lanexa Whippets, who signed on to both Bourbon and Whiskey early on in the hopes that his goal of owning a Best in Show Whippet might be realized (and, it turn out, then some). In addition to the Smitheys, her other owners are Judy Descutner and Nancy Shaw.

Like her brother Whiskey before her, Bourbon has gone into retirement after her National Championship win, though she too may be shown at special events. Whiskey was the top Whippet sire for 2019 (last year’s stats aren’t in yet), and, Bourbon also has parenthood on her immediate horizon: She came into heat the day after Christmas, just a couple of weeks after her big win.

Here’s to the next generation.

Related article: How Does a Dog Win a Dog Show?
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