To some people, the prospect of showing dogs late at night, and on four consecutive nights would be unthinkable but when the summer temperature is as high as it usually is in Croatia in July, the option of night shows is relished by exhibitors.
The shows have now become one of the most popular events on the European circuit, two International and two National shows being held where judging starts at 7 p.m. in the cool of the evening, and the shows usually finish around 2 a.m. In addition there is always a Breed Specialty for Dalmatians, Croatia being what was once “Dalmatia”.
This year the shows were sponsored by Farmina, Best In Show magazine and Our Dogs.
Split is a picturesque city on the Croatian coast that has grown up around the ancient Diocletian Palace which remains its focal point. It is now a popular holiday destination and many magnificent boats can be seen in its harbour as it becomes more and more the playground of the rich and famous.
Croatia is a perfect holiday destination in July as the weather is beautiful and the Croatian people are known for their friendliness and relaxed attitude. Many beautiful unspoilt islands are easily accessible by boat. This year there has been more interest than ever in the islands as much of the filming of the second Mamma Mia film took place on Vis, one of the most unspoilt and picturesque.
The summer night shows were originally the idea of professional handler Ante Lucin who is heavily involved with the local Sporting Dogs Club and it is this club that runs the shows, under the auspices of the Croatian Kennel Club. The shows have proved popular with many European handlers who regularly attend with teams of dogs, happy to be able to combine a summer holiday with four dog shows. During the day the lavish beaches are taken advantage of, or sightseeing trips embarked upon, then in the cool of the evening the dogs can be shown. The local club ensures that ample dog-friendly accommodation is available.
Ante always puts together a very cosmopolitan judging panel; this year the judges were Edd Bivin from the USA, Hiroshi Kamisato from Japan, Noreen Harris and Sue Bownds from Australia, Ozan Belkis from Turkey, Cristian Stefanescu from Romania, Sylvie Desserne from France, Horst Kliebenstein from Germany, Mile Aleksoski from Macedonia, Vojislav Al Daghistani from Serbia, Nedim Suta from Bosnia and Joao Vasco Pocas from Portugal whilst Suzana Verstovsek and Niksa Lemo represented the Croatian judges. This year the honour of awarding Supreme BIS from all the previous nights’ BIS winners went to Paul Stanton, British-born, but long-term Swedish resident who was obviously delighted that the judge of Supreme BIS is always escorted into the ring by a band of suitably clad “gladiators”!
Each night the Junior Handling classes with two age groups were hugely popular and on the four nights four successful handlers judged the classes, this year these being Renee Bergstrom Delgado from Norway, Norbert Tibay from Hungary, Maximilian Mayer from Austria and Jose Luis Santiago from Spain (who won Supreme BIS with a Smoothcoat Chihuahua at last year’s Split). The job of selecting the Supreme Junior Handler from the eight winners fell to Edd Bivin.
The tag-line for Split was this year “feel the difference” and it certainly lived up to that claim. Exhibitors’ every need is catered for (Ante being a professional handler means that he knows what are exhibitors’priorities), the floodlit showground has excellent catering and a bar that creates a special cocktail each year dedicated to the Summer Night Shows. Goran the masseur is also available throughout the show nights and gets booked up very early!
Dalmatians are given special treatment at Split, Croatia being what was formerly known as Dalmatia and this being the national breed. Some exhibitors are seen handling in national dress and the opening ceremony always features traditional dancing and music.
Ante is always determined to maximise the feelgood factor of the Summer Night Shows and in the big ring prior to groups manages to get exhibitors and alike dancing, throwing themselves into the mood and dancing with the Hot Chocolate dance troupe that always provide a warm-up act. On the last night the star turn was the young Croatian singer, Maja Bajamić, who is hugely popular for her appearance on the TV programme, “Your Face Sounds Familiar”. Her rendition of “All That Jazz” from Chicago went down extremely well.
For the last four years I have made Split my annual holiday, having fallen in love with the delightful boutique Villa Dvor Hotel in Omis, and I take care of judges’ hospitality, ensuring that everyone is on the coach when needed and generally trying to keep everyone happy. When we first used Villa Dvor it was only accessible via 176 steps which was not for the faint-hearted but both Frank Sabella and Carla Molinari managed them one year! Thankfully after two years of expensive construction the hotel now has an elevator.
On Thursday evening the show opened on time with the customary folk dancing, a speech from both Croatian KC President Branko Šare and Alijana Vukšić, the Director of the Tourist Board of Split, and all judges were introduced. They were presented with their unique gifts, this year an individual painting of their favourite breed, produced by the talented Spanish groomer and artist, Cesar Alonso Martinez. These were really appreciated by the judges and coveted by exhibitors who watched the presentation.
The Sporting Dogs Club of Split is fortunate in that it has a team of young enthusiasts who help with stewarding and writing in the rings and throughout the week much of the emphasis is on youth which has to be encouraging for the sport in Croatia. Ante has around him great support and this year had to face several unexpected problems behind the scenes which meant last-minute headaches. One was the taking over of the allocated exhibitors’ car parking area as a football match being held on one night had been deemed a “high risk event”, which meant that a new parking lot has to be located and buses laid on to transport exhibitors and dogs to the showground – however this was miraculously achieved in less than 12 hours!
Each night there is a very ambitious big-ring programme which includes two Junior Handling classes, Best Minor Puppy, Best Puppy, Best Couple, Best Breeders Group, Best Veteran, Best from the Hunting and Working classes, Best of the FCI Non Recognised Breeds (each night this was won by an American Hairless Terrier), Best of the Croatian breeds, the Ten Groups Proper – as per FCI classification, Junior Best in Show and Finally Best in Show. That means there is a lot going on in the big ring from the minute breed judging finishes.
Australian Sue Bownds judged the first BIS at the Thursday National Show and her winner was ATLANTIC EUROPICA VARIETAS, a Russian Black Terrier from Slovakia, ably handled by a 13 year old girl. For those who may be unaware of the fact, Sue is actually the mother of Rebel Wilson, the famous comedy actress best known for her role in Pitch Perfect amongst other popular films. Second was a Schipperke from the UK and Third a Lhasa Apso from Italy.
On Friday, at the Split Winner International show, it was the turn of American Edd Bivin to select Best and he pointed to the Chow Chow from Spain, KING OF EGYPT DE LOS PERROS DE BIGO. This was the dog who was much admired by Desi Murphy when I awarded him BIS in Gibraltar a few years ago. Second was a Newfoundland from Hungary and Third the same Schipperke.
Despite finishing in the small hours, judges were up bright eyed and bushy tailed on Saturday for a boat trip to the island of Brac where we moored at Pucisca and enjoyed freshly barbecued fish and various other delights for lunch. On the journey home it was a thrill to find some dolphins swimming alongside our boat, something that the captain said he hadn’t seen for six years.
On Saturday the second National show was held where the BIS judge was Horst Kliebenstein. His choice was the White Swiss Shepherd from Hungary, DOUX OF ICE WINE. Second was the Hungarian Newfoundland and Third BIS was the Finnish-based Skye Terrier. The evening had started in sombre mood as it had become known that one of Croatia’s most popular singer songwriters, Oliver Dragojevic had lost his battle with cancer. As he opened the show, Ante introduced one of Dragojevic’s most popular songs that was played to a hushed audience many of whom were moved to tears.
On Sunday the second International show took place when BIS was judged by Hiroshi Kamisato. His winner was the Longcoat Chihuahua, A LA PROHIBIDA DE MALKANORAH, shown by Spain’s Jose Luis Santiago who last year won Supreme Best with a Smoothcoat. This year’s winner was bred in Peru. Second was the Portuguese Bullmastiff who had recently won Best at the big Lisbon show and Third another Finnish-based (American) Cocker of Laurent Pichard’s breeding.
The run-up to Supreme BIS is always exciting in Split. Each night the dance troupe had performed various routines, spectators, exhibitors and judges being encouraged by Ante Lucin to come into the big ring and join in the fun. On Sunday night the ring was packed and after everyone had loosened up there was great applause when Ante introduced Maja Bajamić to the crowd. Much was made of Croatia’s recent success in the World Cup and there were many Croatian football shirts and scarves in evidence. Also of course the nation’s most popular football song was heard loud and clear.
First of the “Supreme” competitions was Puppy which Sylvie Desserne awarded to a scrumptious baby Boston Terrier. Vojislav Al Daghistani’s choice for Supreme Veteran was a Dalmatian whilst the country’s national breed also accounted for Supreme Best of the Croatian Breeds under Niksa Lemo. Cristian Stefanescu chose an (American) Cocker for Supreme Junior and so we came to the climax of the four nights.
After all the excitement as is the custom, “Emperor Diocletian” entered the big ring with his guard of honour and made the opening speech. Two gigantic Croatians in ancient livery escorted Paul Stanton into the ring, making him look tiny by comparison. Into the ring came the Russian Black Terrier, the Chow Chow, the White Swiss Shepherd and the Dalmatian who had won the national breed’s Club Specialty on the Saturday night. Having examined and moved all five, Paul made a very moving speech at what was his third visit to the Split Summer Night Shows before handing the gigantic ribbon to the handler of the Russian Black Terrier – a hugely popular win.
The catalogue shows that there were 59 dogs entered from the UK, several of which did very well in their respective breeds. In the big ring Stuart and Carole Pearson’s Bracco Italiano won a group, as did Lindsey & Joanne McLachlan’s Schipperke whilst Racheal Bailey made history by taking a G3 with her Canadian Eskimo Dog, this apparently being the first ever group placing for the breed at an FCI International show.
At a civilised time on Monday judges were taken into the old city for a tour of Diocletian’s Palace and a light lunch before heading out to Podstrana and the waterfront Jure restaurant where a table had been laid on a jetty that is surrounded by water for a memorable dinner that was attended by remaining judges and members of the host club.
On Tuesday judges began to make their way home, each and every one of them having enjoyed the Split experience enormously, … it is little wonder that everyone wants to judge in Split! Exhibitors too left with a warm glow, many having already reserved accommodation for next year’s shows.
Report by Andrew Brace
Check out the Photo gallery for more Photos by Tommaso Urciuolo, Boris Glukharev and Andrew Brace