Baying and barking, Uno the beagle takes first step at Westminster

Eds: UPDATES with hound judging; Will be UPDATED around 11:15 p.m. after group judging completed for the night. Moving on general news and sports services.

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 best in show will be presented later, 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 perfectly trimmed toy poodle, a top Sealyham terrier and a prized Akita were among the 2,627 entries at this year's show. The dogs came in 169 breeds and varieties, and there 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.

The terrier, nonsporting and herding groups were also to be judged Monday night. Judge J. Donald Jones, former a dean at Emory University, will point to his choice as best in show right before 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Though the 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 hoped 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 perfect "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, also advanced in breed competition.