Palm Springs, in the desert of Southern California, was a destination for pleasure seekers long before the Rat Pack started performing at the Racquet Club. The lure of this desert oasis has been favored by railroad executives, farmers and health and fitness enthusiasts, and made famous to the rest of the world by those notorious Hollywood A-listers. The perfect getaway since its hot springs were discovered by the Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs represents the ideal to which every American resort aspires: elegance in a relaxed manner, with a cultivated allure that captivates first-time guests with the promise of discovery.

The Kennel Club of Palm Springs has been returning to the Empire Polo Club in nearby Indio for many years to stage its conformation events as the opening act of the California show season. Upon these manicured lawns, future contenders make their debut while the previous year’s top dogs battle it out for supremacy as they head toward February’s finish line. This year was no different, as young Specials of many breeds demonstrated they have what it takes to get a callback, though the veterans seemed less than willing to share top billing with them.

The grounds of the Polo Club are expansive and easily accommodate the swelling entries throughout four days of Group Shows, Breed Specialties and All-Breed events. This year’s entry of 3,439 on Saturday and 3,665 on Sunday in 168 breeds and varieties gave spectators ample opportunity to view performances sure to receive rave reviews throughout the year. Although it’s the dogs that everyone comes to see, it’s the valet parking, the cocktail bar, the signature tenting and the brilliant daylight and dramatic evening skies that threaten to upstage the handlers and their charges here.

At Palm Springs, a complete novice can get noticed simply by being in the right place at the right time. Just as Lana Turner was discovered at a drugstore counter, a spin around these rings occasionally creates a buzz. During Saturday night’s judging, a rumble could be heard moving around the Non-Sporting Group ring, as spectators quickly thumbed through their catalogs in an effort to identify an indistinct breed winner.

Perhaps it was just somebody’s idea of a practical joke, but standing center stage was an ordinary-looking dog dressed in basic brown with tan accents that appeared every bit as well-rehearsed as its more familiar cast members. To many, its type seemed similar to that of many dogs found in countless backyards, so exactly how this smart-looking vagabond made the cast at one of America’s most illustrious conformation venues was anybody’s guess.

In due time, the interloper’s identity was revealed to be that of a medium-sized, coated Xolo, the less familiar variety of that exotic and hairless breed made famous by Frida Kahlo. Suddenly, the Little Tramp became a kind of Charlie Chaplin, charming his way out of the alley and onto center stage.

For the audience in attendance, many of whom are among the world’s most knowledgeable dog people, this dog represented in many respects the ideal of what a dog show is meant to be: a competitive endeavor comprised of equal parts entertainment and education. This single entry proved the value of our sport to many, as even the most veteran of ticket holders is still capable of being thrilled by the unexpected performance of a complete unknown.

Of course, the crowd that remained well into the early evening expected to find only familiar faces in the Best in Show ring.

Saturday night’s winner dazzled the crowd as the judge, Mr. Stephen Hubbell, selected the English Setter bitch, GCH Oakley’s B’Dazzled, as his winner. The 4-year-old, piloted by Bruce Schultz, bred by Jim Jannard and Paula Dempsey, is owned by Donald and Georjean Jensen and Erik and Jennifer Strickland.

On Sunday, it was Mr. Robert Stein’s turn to take center stage as Best in Show judge, and he awarded the brilliant Kuvasz, CH Szumeria’s Wildwood Silver Six Penc, handled by Diana Wilson. The 3-year-old dog is bred and owned by Mercedes Villa, Lynn Brady, Constance Townsend and Claudia Muir.

Few shows have the panache of Palm Springs, of course, although every AKC event features performers and performances guaranteed to surprise and delight.

As the 2012 show season gets underway, visitors to Best In Show Daily can expect to find thoughtful reviews of sold-out performances from Madison Square Garden to Branson, MO. To view a selection of candid images from this weekend’s shows, go to Show Spotlight under our Show Scene drop down menu, and for a complete list of group winners from Palm Springs and every AKC All-Breed show, visit Billy Wheeler’s blog, DogShowPoop.

Until next time, best of luck on that Best In Show!