He definitely was an underdog heading into December’s AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, says David Fitzpatrick about GCH Pequest Wasabi, a relative newcomer to canine competitions.
But by the time they left Florida’s Orange County Convention Center, Fitzpatrick’s 20-month-old Pekingese was the top dog, becoming the first overall Best in Show winner from the Toy Dog category in the history of the American Kennel Club’s flagship show.
“Sometimes the stars just line up, judges appreciate your dog and they have a great day,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s sort of what happened [with Wasabi].”
Born April 27, 2018, in East Berlin, Pennsylvania, with three other pups, Wasabi “was the pick of the litter and showed promise,” says Fitzpatrick.
“At about eight weeks old, I put a lead on him, and he walked around without being trained,” he recalled. “He just had the ‘it’ factor; he was a natural showman. When you get a good representative of the breed, then you’re in business.”
When it came to naming this special pup, it was far from business as usual for co-owners Fitzpatrick and Peggy Steinman. By the time the litter of four came along, Fitzpatrick — a longtime Pekingese owner and breeder whose dog history dates back to the 1970s — admits he had “come to a standstill” with picking names. A friend of his from Canada, taking note that the mother dog was called Sushi Grand, suggested Wasabi, as the condiment is often paired with the Japanese dish.
“It suits him because he’s sort of a lively, spicy dog for his breed,” Fitzpatrick said with a laugh.
When Wasabi was about six months old, Fitzpatrick began the process of socializing him as though he would be a top showdog one day.
“I would take him every day down my long driveway to get the mail and walk back — things like that to bring him along so that when the day comes, he’s going to know pretty much what’s going to happen and there won’t be too many surprises,” he said. Fitzpatrick’s prep work also involved daily grooming in a manner that Wasabi would enjoy and putting him on a table to teach him how to stand patiently for a few minutes.
At the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, held December 14-15 in Orlando, Florida, Wasabi won Best of Breed in a field of 30 Pekingese. In the Toy Group, Wasabi captured the blue Group 1st ribbon over 20-plus dogs, among them Bono, the Havenese that was the No. 1 Toy dog (as well as the Reserve Best) at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in February 2019.
Upon Wasabi’s surprising and seemingly out-of-nowhere Best in Show victory, one of the announcers covering the AKC National Championship said, “So many times we say, ‘What a way to cap off a career.’ Wow, what a way to start a career.”
Fitzpatrick essentially felt the same way.
“The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I can’t believe this just happened,’ ” Fitzpatrick remembered. “This was a fairly young dog and kind of a new dog on the show scene, so it didn’t cross my mind that he’d be considered [for Best in Show]. Historically, dogs that win usually come into that show with a big [track] record.”
Wasabi’s resume has grown in recent weeks. Since his overall AKC victory, he has received Best in Show honors from the Merrimack Valley Kennel Club, the Northern Neck Kennel Club and the Charlottesville Albemarle Kennel Club. Fitzpatrick says his champion Pekingese will enjoy a little downtime prior to competing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, taking place February 9-11 at Madison Square Garden in New York.