Six dogs will make history this year as the newest breeds eligible to compete at Westminster. If they have visions of winning, though, history is against them.
The names of some of these rookie breeds competing in this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 13-14 at Madison Square Garden are a mouthful: the Entlebucher mountain dog, the Norwegian Lundehund, the American English coonhound, the Finnish Lapphund, the Cesky terrier and the Xoloitzcuintli, previously known as the Mexican Hairless.
The six new breeds bring to 185 the number that will compete this year for the best of show grand prize in the annual contest, the oldest sporting event in the United States next to the Kentucky Derby, said David Frei, the club's director of communications and the USA Network show host.
In 1990, there were 142 eligible breeds.
This is no limit on the number of new breeds that can be admitted each year, but there are strict criteria. For the last 12 years, no more than six rookies have been approved in any year, Frei said.
Before the American Kennel Club will approve a new breed, there have to be a significant number of the dogs in the United States and there has to be a breed club to oversee enthusiasts and geographic diversity.
The rookies will compete with all the other dogs but they won't be a good bet to win best in show.
Frei said the rookie that rose to the top and became best in show fastest was the Bichon Frise. That breed made its debut in 1974 and was named best of show in 2001, a 27-year gap.
The AKC provided these thumbnail sketches of this year's rookie breeds:
_ The American English coonhound is a descendent of the English foxhound and evolved from Virginia hounds. Originally used to hunt fox by day and raccoon by night, they were once called the English fox and coonhound.
The breed is pleasant, alert, confident and sociable with both humans and dogs. The modern version of the dog is a speedy, durable and wide-ranging hunter.
It is represented by the American English Coonhound Association.
_ The Entlebucher mountain dog is a native of Switzerland and the smallest of the four AKC Swiss breeds. Prized for its work ethic and ease of training, this dog can easily switch from high-spirited playmate to serious, self-assured dog with a commanding presence. This is not a good dog for the casual owner because it needs so much socialization and will remain active and energetic all its life.
It is sponsored by the National Entlebucher Mountain Dog Association.
_ The Finnish Lapphund is a reindeer herding dog from the northern parts of Scandinavia. It is thought that this breed existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years as a helper dog to native tribes. Today, they are popular as family pets in their native Finland. Devoted to their family, they are friendly with all people, highly intelligent and eager to learn. They are strong but very agile.
They are represented by the Finnish Lapphund Club of America.
_ The Norwegian Lundehund is also called the puffin dog. It spent centuries on the rocky cliffs and high fields of arctic Norway hunting and retrieving puffin birds, which was an important meat and feather crop to local farmers.
This dog has at least six toes on each foot so it can handle the almost vertical areas where puffins nest. It also has a flexible skeletal structure that enables it to squirm out of tight spots or go spread eagle to prevent slips and falls.
Today's version of the dog is an alert, cheerful and somewhat mischievous companion.
It is represented by the Norwegian Lundehund Club of America, Inc.
_ The Xoloitzcuintli is the national dog of Mexico and was previously known as the Mexican Hairless. It comes in three sizes and there is a coated version seen only in the United States and Canada. These dogs are descendants of the hairless dogs prized by the Aztecs and revered as guardians of the dead.
Living in the Mexican jungles, they were shaped by their environment. Their intelligence, trainability and natural cleanliness have turned them into unique and valued pets.
It is sponsored by the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America.
_ The Cesky terrier is a well-muscled, short legged hunting terrier that can be worked in packs. With natural drop ears and a natural tail, it is longer than it is tall and has a long, soft, silky coat that can be any shade of gray from charcoal to platinum.
Lean and graceful, the dogs are reserved toward strangers but loyal to their owners and always keen and alert during a hunt.
This breed is sponsored by the American Cesky Terrier Fanciers Association.