Baying and barking, Uno the beagle takes first winning steps at Westminster

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AP Photo NY164

By BEN WALKER

AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Uno barked at his handler, bayed at the crowd, tried to grab his leash and took a flying leap at a piece of filet mignon. Oh, and he gnawed away at a newly printed sign.

Now that's one great beagle.

His white-tipped tail in perpetual motion, Uno turned the green carpet of Madison Square Garden into his own personal backyard. On Monday night, he became the first beagle to win the hound group at the Westminster Kennel Club show since 1939 -- that's 483 years, in dog years.

"Snoopy would be proud," handler Aaron Wilkerson said earlier. "He was being his merry little hound self."

Westminster has presented best in show 100 times and a beagle has never won. Uno's victory assured him a place in the final seven Tuesday night at America's No. 1 dog event.

Beagles are always among the most popular dogs in the country, yet Wilkerson was at a loss to explain why they've never done better here.

"I can't really say," he said. "All of them are just good."

While Uno aimed at best in show, the precocious package of personality certainly deserved one title: noisiest in show.

"Ah-rooo!" his howls echoed all over the arena. It didn't take much to get Uno going, either. A click of a spectator's pen, a wave of the judge's hand, any effort by Wilkerson to hush him. "Ah-rooo!"

A repeat standard poodle, a prize-winning Sealyham terrier and an Australian shepherd also locked up spots in the final ring. A perfectly trimmed toy poodle and a top Akita hoped to win their groups Tuesday.

There were among the 2,627 entries at this year's show, coming in 169 breeds and varieties. Included were four newly sanctioned types -- the Tibetan mastiff, Beauceron, Swedish vallhund and Plott.

Also roaming around the rings: a niece of Vivi, the award-winning whippet who ran away at John F. Kennedy International Airport two years ago, and the daughter of Rufus, the colored bull terrier that won the 2006 Westminster with a football-sized noggin.

Though the Disney movie "Underdog" was a big winner last year, a beagle is forever a long shot at the Garden.

Tri-colored and nearly 3, with pleading, golden-brown eyes and a most playful nature, Uno wanted to break out of the Westminster doghouse. His official name is K-Run's Park Me in First, and he topped 12 other entries in the 15-inch beagle category.

Not that he lorded it over his fellow pooches, the way a Lhasa Apsos or Saluki might. Instead, Uno tried to join in when the other beagles were excused from the ring. Wilkerson held him still on the trophy stand and it worked, for about 10 seconds.

Beagles also come in the 13-inch variety, though both types can come from the same litter. In show terms, Uno is a "big beagle."

Uno already has won 32 best in show titles and finished 2007 as the sixth-ranked show dog in the nation. He retreated to the safety of his crate after this latest win, complete with his favorite stuffed frog toy and a fluffy pillow sporting a Hollywood star.

Judge Ralph Lemcke picked Uno over 25 others in the hound group, praising his "soft expression" and the neat "brush on his tail."

"He could run all day in the field," Lemcke said.

In December, Uno won the hound group at the big AKC/Eukanuba show in Long Beach, Calif. The winner of that event, a Sealyham called Charmin, won the terrier group.

Charmin is "squeezably, wonderfully soft," co-owner and handler Margery Good said. He has a dark gray patch over his left eye and a tremendous pedigree -- his brother is the top-winning dog in Canada.

A standard poodle with white pompoms on his feet and tail won the nonsporting group for the second straight year. Merci was a clear pick for judge Michael Manning.

"Beautiful is beautiful," he said. "His personality went on for miles."

Deuce, a 4-year-old Australian shepherd, won the herding group.