When they step into the best-in-show ring tonight at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York's Madison Square Garden, Anna Quigley and Dahu won't be the favorites but they'll be a part of history.
Until last night's working-group triumph, never had a komondor (a vigilant Hungarian breed revered for its protective qualities during sheep and cattle herding ) won a group title, let alone best-in-show at America's second oldest (117 years old) sports event.
But Champion Lajosmegyi Dahu Digal, a 6-year-old co-owned by Quigley and Patricia Turner of Chehalis, was "at his best," says Quigley. The 3-foot tall Dahu, his white tassel-like cords flowing with his every move, bested a field of 18 other champions.
"I would have been pleased just winning the breed," said Quigley. There he beat a seven-time best-in-show titlist. Dahu has one best-in-show and 15 group wins in four years.
While Dahu is six short of the breed's all-time best-in-show record, he will be remembered as the dog that put this breed on the map. A group win - and who knows what he can do tonight - has gained him and his breed instant notoriety.
"When we were pulled out for consideration (by judge Mrs. Edd Biven of Fort Worth, Texas), I was thrilled. Then, when she moved us up to No. 3, my stomach started churning. Then when she came over and gave Dahu another looked and pulled him up to first, well, I was saying to myself, `Don't mess up now.' "
Neither did, and moments later the commanding Dahu, a solid crowd favorite, owned the biggest win of his career.
For Quigley and Turner, it was their second breed win at Westminster. The previous one coming in 1982.
"No matter what happens Tuesday night," says Quigley, "this has been an unbelievable trip. One of the keys was arriving early (last Thursday) and allowing the dog plenty of time to get settled and rested."
Joining Dahu in tonight's Select Seven final will be terrier group winner Champion Pennywise The Butler Did It, a Dandie Dinmont owned and handled by Catherine B. Nelson of Potomac, Md.; non-sporting titlist Champion Chaminade Larkshire Lafitte, a bichon frise owned by Lois Morrow of Westlake Village, Calif.; and herding group victor Champion Altana's Mystique, a German shepherd owned by Jane Firestone of Southern Pines, N.C., and handled by James Moses of Roswell, Ga.
Of this quartet, Mystique, the hottest show dog in the country, will be the favorite.
Champion Registry's Lonesome Dove's, a precocious wire fox terrier known as Lacey, entered the show as a favorite to sweep the breed, group and best-in-show judging, for the second straight year, a feat accomplished only eight times in the show's history and not since 1971-72. But Butler, the Dandie Dinmont derailed Lacey's bid.
Terrier judge Mrs. Ruth L. Cooper of Glenview, Ill., said that Butler "is in fine condition, and that's not easy to do with a Dandie. They were all fine dogs and any judge could place them any way, but the Dandie was the best tonight."
Tonight's action will be shown tape delayed here beginning at 8 o'clock on the USA network.