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The First Repeat Winner of M&E

By Amy Fernandez

We’re all familiar with that exclusive group of two-time Westminster winners. Only a handful of top dogs have pulled it off since 1907. It’s a rare achievement, thanks to the show’s size and level of competition. In that respect, it had only one American rival. For much of its 43 year history Morris and Essex actually surpassed Westminster on both counts. Plenty of Westminster headliners added M&E to their BIS resume. However, only one dog managed back-to-back Bests at Morris &Essex, Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket in 1947 and ‘48.

His record breaking career made history, but even back then, Henry Davis admitted that his success wasn’t a sure bet. “The breed took a tremendous boost, both in perfection and popularity in 1947 when Anthony Neary, manager for Mr. and Mrs. William Rockefeller’s Rock Ridge Kennels, piloted their Rock Ridge Night Rocket to BIS at Morris and Essex. The young dog was a virtual dark horse,” he wrote.

That could be said for the breed as a whole. In Britain, the Bedlington’s star was consistently eclipsed by trending Terriers like Airedales, Scotties, Welsh and others. It also suffered from fad breeding and endless wars about grooming protocol. Over here, it never achieved sufficient popularity to trigger those issues, and for most of its American history a handful of loyalists kept it alive.

Foremost among them was the celebrated Terrier handler Tony Neary. Neary and his wife brought their Bedlington know-how to America and devoted 35 years to establishing the breed’s foundation here. Equally important was  Col. P.V.G. Mitchell and his daughter, Mrs. Paul Willemson, whose Rowanoaks Kennel presented the country’s first big Bedlington winners. Neary’s dog sense and English contacts combined with Mitchell’s money and position within the shipping industry landed the finest Bedlington imports for Rowanoaks breeding program during the 1930s.

That era qualifies as the breed’s heyday in terms of quality and influential promoters. For both Neary and Mitchell, the Bedlington message became a personal crusade.

Consequently, as American breeding came to the forefront, both entries and registrations surged. In 1939, that momentum translated into an unprecedented jump from 54th to 43rd place in AKC rankings. Most importantly, it attracted big name fanciers to Bedlingtons, most notably William Rockefeller. The Nearys soon took over managing his famed Rock Ridge Kennel in Greenwich, Connecticut, including a high-powered Bedlington breeding program based on those successful Rowanoaks dogs. On March 6, 1946 it produced Night Rocket.

Just 14 months old when he achieved his first M&E triumph, it was his sixth show and first major win. AKC Gazette editor Arthur Fredrick Jones summed up the collective reaction, “A Bedlington with no previous claim to fame and all but unknown to the show followers became one of the biggest dogs in America today winning BIS at the biggest show in the world…surprise was two-fold since Bedlingtons haven’t been conspicuous BIS winners.” Jones added that among those defeated were several heavy hitters in the Terrier Group, the big winning Welsh, Ch. Twin Ponds Belle, the invincible Scottie, Ch. Deephaven Warspite, and the superstar, Crackley Wire.

No one called Night Rocket’s win mere luck a few months later. “To some, that may have seemed like the end of the chapter,” said Jones in his 1948 M&E show report. “Actually it was only a preface. Night Rocket went on to take Westminster, but few were so bold as to install him as a favorite to go BIS at Morris and Essex again,” he wrote. That year’s BIS judge, Alva Rosenberg, was the exception as Jones admits, “That is exactly what he did, establishing a new page in doggy history, for never before was there a two-time winner of this celebrated show.”

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Posted by on Oct 2 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Dog Show History, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • February 2019