Steve and Cynthia Sansone, who own and operate the Malvern, Pa.-based Long Grove Bloodstock, have enjoyed many successes in the Thoroughbred breeding and pinhooking industry over the years. But when their Giant Schnauzer Skansen’s Bacchus II won a first award of merit in his breed class at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York Feb. 16, it gave them a whole different kind of thrill.
“This is our first show dog, and it would be comparable to a couple buying their first racehorse and it ending up being a Triple Crown contender,” said Steve Sansone, who has been involved with Thoroughbreds for more than 20 years. A first award of merit, which is like an honorable mention, means Bacchus was the third highest rated dog of the 11 entries in his breed class at Westminster.
Sansone said Cynthia had bought Bacchus for him as a gift when he was nine months old from the prominent Skansen Kennels in California. Prior to acquiring Bacchus, the couple had started out with a female Giant Schnauzer named Tuleh, who they entered in some shows on a more limited scale. They were originally turned on to the Giant Schnauzer breed by Steve Sansone’s father, who is also in the Thoroughbred business and operates a breeding farm outside of St. Louis.
After the Sansones realized Bacchus had champion potential as a young pup, they hired a handler and began entering him in various shows throughout the country.
“In 2009, he secured three best in shows, and finished in the top three in his breed in the United States,” said Sansone. “This has all been a thrill.”
Sansone, who bred two-time stakes winner Nasty Fever, keeps a few mares at Mike Evans’ Sheltowee Farm near Midway, Ky. and Gail Wood’s Woodlands Farm near Hillsburgh, Ontario, Canada. While he views his newfound success with Bacchus as a hobby, Sansone is able to draw several similarities between the show dog circuit and the Thoroughbred business.
“They’re both very competitive, and they’re also both based on people that have a love and passion for the animal, whether equine or canine,” he said. “You also never know what’s going to happen on a given day (with show dogs). You could win best in show on one weekend, and the following weekend, not do anything.
“It depends on the judge, how the dog is feeling, if he’s up to the challenge, whether there’s another dog there that has a reputation of being better. It has the same similarities, the same ups and downs, and of course the same thrills (as Thoroughbred racing).”
As with any honor that is bestowed upon an individual, there are always others to thank.
“I have to give so much credit to my wife Cynthia and the handlers—Jamie and Jaki Clute,” said Sansone. “I’ve been able to take the accolades, but they’ve been the ones on the forefront.”
The Sansones are just some of many Thoroughbred owners and breeders with a show dog hobby on the side to collect awards from Westminster over the years.
In 2009, Thoroughbred horsewomen Caroline Dodwell of Texas and Carole Ann Rio of Florida had entries in Westminster that took Best of Breed honors.
Dodwell’s winning dog was a Norwich Terrier named “Poker” (Ch Skyscot’s Poker Chip), who also finished third in the Terrier group competition. Dodwell and her husband Ed operated Diamond D Ranch near Lone Oak, Texas.
Rio, who buys and sells horses in the Ocala, Fla. area, is the breeder and co-owner of “Hamlet” (Ch Classic’s To Be Or Not To Be) that was judged the show’s top Boston Terrier.
Also, in 2004, A Vizsla co-owned by Thoroughbred insurance executive Fara Bushnell won Best of Breed at the New York show. Bushnell's partner in the dog, named Prairie Heartsong, is Jan Cox.
Bushnell also is the co-owner of an Australian Shepherd, Horizon's Deja Blue, who received the first award of merit in the breed judging.