The top dog won Crufts, but it was not at all a sure thing. That’s what judge Geoff Corish told me just a few minutes after he had awarded ‘Jilly,’ the PBGV Ch. Soletrader Peek a Boo, the momentous win at this storied show, making her the first of her breed to top all breeds there. Geoff said, before he was swallowed up by a horde of camera crews and mainstream journalists, that he was impressed by all the winners, and it was really not an easy choice.

Geoff Corish stands before the media with Best in Show winner Ch. Soletrader Peek a Boo and breeder/owner Gavin Robertson. Photos by Karl Donvil.

What probably helped was Jilly’s combination of outstanding breed qualities and tremendous charisma, and she showed like a little trouper. Handler Gavin Robertson, who’s also one of Jilly’s breeders and owners, said he had never had as much fun as showing this dog… and that’s no wonder, seeing how much she’s won and how greatly she is admired by both breed specialists and all-rounder judges. She was Britain’s top Hound in 2011 before going all the way to Number 1 all breeds last year, and she first came to public recognition by winning Reserve BIS at Crufts as a mere youngster.

Gavin gives PBGV ‘Jilly’ a kiss for her Best in Show winning performance.

This was Jilly’s last show. She will now retire, at the young age of just 3 years, and will leave the arena to the next generation from her home kennel. Gavin and Sara Robertson’s Soletrader prefix is famous all over the world, including in North America. Jilly’s grandsire, Ch. Soletrader Bjorn Borg, has spent much of his life in Canada and is just one of several kennel mates who have won big on both sides of the border. (An obliging friend at the Kennel Club printed out Jilly’s five-generation pedigree for me, and it was interesting to note that she’s linebred on the previous record holder Ch. Willowbrae Amazing Grace for Afterglow and goes back to French lines through her, and – not so surprisingly – to some Swedish dogs through Bjorn Borg.) Another north-of-the-border connection, of course, is that Jilly has been co-owned through most of her career by Wendy Doherty of Canada.

The solid silver Keddall Memorial Trophy is featured during the Best in Show competition, and a replica is given to the Best in Show winner.

A few words about the BIS judge before we continue with the other winners. Geoff Corish said he had been extremely nervous beforehand, but felt steady as a rock as soon as he entered the ring. It’s not like he’s never been there before. He told me he had not ever imagined that he would be given the honor of awarding BIS at this show, but few – if any – are better qualified. As he entered the arena, the emcee introduced him as one of Britain’s most successful dog men of all time. Geoff has won BIS at Crufts twice (and his partner Michael Coad won a third time). Between them they have won, I believe, 10 Group Firsts at Crufts, and they have handled the Number 1 dog of all breeds five times… so who would be more suitable to select the winner than Geoff?

Gavin allows Jilly to demonstrate the exceptional form that propelled her to Number 1 all breeds in 2012.

If there had been an applause meter in the arena, which seats 12,000 spectators, most of whom were at least as loud as their Westminster counterparts, there may have been a tie between the PBGV and the extrovert, charismatic yellow Labrador Retriever who was Reserve BIS. The ringside loved him at least as much as the judge did, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Labrador move with such energy and style. He was a new name to most of us – It. Ch. Loch Mor Romeo. He has reportedly won big on the European Continent already, but I’m told this was his first visit to Great Britain from his native Italy. His owner and breeder Franco Barberi has cleverly blended famous British lines from the legendary Sandylands kennel with other blood, including some from Scandinavia, and Loch Mor’s grandsire is an AKC champion, although of British breeding – Ch. Langshott Gale Force from Kimvalley. (And by the way, the British, who have selected a Reserve BIS much longer than we have in America, always pick the winner before they point to Reserve – the opposite of what we’re told by AKC to do.)

The Labrador from Italy shows his beautiful movement on the way to winning Reserve Best in Show.

One interesting twist to the judging that could never happen in the U.S. was that the two Labrador Retriever judges had not been able to agree on BOB at Crufts. Between them there were 485 Labs entered, and since there’s no “specials” class in Britain, one of the judges took on all the males, the other all the bitches… and then they tried to decide jointly who would be BOB. When they couldn’t agree, the Group judge, Zena Thorn-Andrews, was called in and decided in favor of the dog. That’s a pretty close call for a dog who then goes on to win Reserve BIS from 20,556 dogs!

Another thing we never see in the U.S. was that the seven Group judges were introduced prior to Best in Show, filing into the big ring and standing behind the sign for each Group, where they were then joined, one by one, by the Group winners, before the BIS judge was introduced.

Jilly receives a hug from Gavin upon adding a Best in Show at Crufts to her career record.

We’ve already discussed the five Group winners from Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This leaves just the two Sunday Groups. The Herding (or “Pastoral” as it’s called here) Group was judged by Jeff Luscott and won, not so surprisingly (he told me he had made her Best Puppy when she was 6 months old!) by the eye-catching Australian Shepherd Ch. Allmark Fifth Avenue. A real crowd pleaser, she was among Britain’s top dogs last year. Although born and bred in the U.K., she’s sired by an American dog, Ch. Dazzle’s Bill-A-Bing Bill-A-Bong. It was actually a pretty adventurous breeding – the sire was then living in Brazil, but returned to the U.S. in time to breed Fifth Avenue’s dam, who spent a month’s “vacation” in America.

A very excited Franco Barberi reacts to the news that his Lab is this year’s Reserve Best in Show winner.

Group Second went to the Shetland Sheepdog Ch. Edglonian Singing The Blues, who’s very different in type to our American dogs. (Or perhaps I should reverse that, since it’s most likely our dogs that have diverged from the native one.) Third was a spectacular German Shepherd Dog, Ch. Elmo von Huhnegrab, imported from Germany, and shown on a long leash by his very agile handler. I’ve never seen anything like the reaction this dog elicited from ringside. Spectators always love German Shepherds, but here it was almost as if an electric current went through ringside. Fourth place went to an Old English Sheepdog, Ch. Arakyas Genesis at Beauvallon, who I believe hails from Greece, and like a lot of other breeds sported a long, undocked tail. (So why do a lot of Europeans insist on calling them “Bobtails”?) There were a total of 3,331 dogs of the Pastoral breeds entered.

The Working Group, oddly, was much smaller, with “only” 2,362 dogs entered. It also includes a lot of breeds that are cropped and/or docked in the U.S. but not in these parts: Boxers, Rottweilers and uncropped Dobermans with long tails help create a very different overall picture to what we are used to seeing. It’s not easy to appreciate this “natural” look at first, at least for an American, but as someone pointed out, if you need to cut off body parts to appreciate a dog perhaps you should take a deep breath and think again…

The great British all-rounder Ferelith Somerfield, a true lady in every sense of the word, had announced that this would be her retirement show as a judge. She will be deeply missed by the many who have met her in the U.S. as well as in the rest of the world. The Group was won by the Bernese Mountain Dog, Ch. Meadowpark Whisper’s Breeze, born and bred in Great Britain by the same kennel that produced such an impressive Breeder’s Group the day before, but sired by a dog from the famous Belgian Stokerybos kennel. She’s an established winner, won BOB here last year as well, but it’s probably not too much to say this was her biggest win ever. Group Second was an uncropped and undocked Bouvier des Flandres (yes, they are in the Working Group here), Roamaro Read All About It With Kiztok, third was the Rottweiler Ch. Varenka Maximillion at Granjolea, and fourth a Bullmastiff from Norway, Ch. Old Manila’s Little Mill.

Recipient of this year’s Friends for Life award, 7-year-old Owen Howkins, admires his prize as his three-legged pal, Anatolian Shepherd Dog ‘Haatchi,’ lies in waiting.

There’s so much else that ought to be mentioned. The “Young Kennel Clubs” stakes finale, for instance. It’s not at all like the Junior Handling competition which Bill McFadden had judged the previous day, but instead a sort of “mini-Best in Show” for dogs owned by young people (12 to 24 years, I believe), who qualify by winning preliminary heats at other shows. I was happy, of course, to see the win go to a Whippet, Danluke Dicky Bird, well-handled by teenager Luke Johnston, and runner-up to an Italian Greyhound, UK & Am. Ch. Artmeis Kaaliya, shown by a very talented 20-year-old girl whose name I did not get as the names were not listed in the catalog. There were also programs that had nothing to do with conformation judging: a demonstration of police dog training, the agility final, Heelwork to Music, and a completely heart-rending event called “Friends for Life” where the audience can vote for which of the five in some ways handicapped but in every way worthy dogs and their owners would “win” the title. You can argue whether it’s possible to decide who was more worthy of the finalist, but I’m sure there was not a dry eye in the whole arena.

The announcer greeted the audience with “My lords, ladies and gentlemen…” (you don’t hear that much in the States), and the Best in Show finale was opened with fanfare by the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines HMS Collingwood. It was very stylish, very grand and very British.

As I said four days ago, everyone who loves dogs and dog shows should try to attend Crufts at least once. It’s in many ways very different from the shows we’re used to in the U.S., but it’s an experience that you won’t forget and will leave you with memories forever.