NEW YORK – A bracco Italiano named Lepshi won his breed's debut at the United States' most prestigious dog show. And dog lovers just might not be the only audience that won't forget something like that.
Lepshi (prounouced LEEP'-she) happens to be co-owned by country music and “1883” series star Tim McGraw. But that distinction was just playing in the background of a chorus of cheers as Lepshi and eight other examples of his handsome Italian hunting breed took their turns in the ring Tuesday at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
“He's a wonderful ambassador for the breed,” handler Ryan Wolfe said after the 6-year-old's win. Lepshi aces the breed's trademark ground-covering trot, Wolfe explained, and “he loves everybody."
McGraw, known for hits including “Something Like That,” and his wife, country luminary and “1883” co-star Faith Hill, have had a number of bracchi at home and featured them in social media posts. In one 2020 video, a bracco howls along as one of the couple's daughters sings some high notes.
“Stromboli is happy that Maggie is home from college!!!!!” McGraw wrote at the time. A message was sent Tuesday to a representative for him about Lepshi's groundbreaking Westminster win.
Wolfe, who handles the dog for McGraw and co-owners Kristi Libertore, Tony Libertore and Jenell Tonini-Zanotto, said it was “an honor to be first.”
Lepshi was eliminated in the semifinals but made the judge's initial cuts in his group.
The bracco ( pronounced BRAH’-koh) has an ancient heritage in Europe. It became eligible to compete at Westminster this year after getting recognized by the American Kennel Club, which is the nation's oldest dog registry and acts akin to a league for many U.S. dog shows. Recognition is voluntary and entails inking an agreed-upon standard for the dogs and various other criteria.
AKC recognition can increase everyday recognition, which has some bracco owners cautioning that would-be owners need to understand what the soulful-looking, amiable dogs require.
“We want these dogs hunting,” said Siva Aiken, whose bracco Tillie-rye Hogwallop — yes, she uses that whole name — was named the breed’s best female competitor Tuesday. (When a female wins, a male gets such an award.)
Bracchi can be easygoing at home, but only if they get enough activity, Aiken said. Tillie-rye Hogwallop, for instance, hunts quail, pheasant and other birds. She and Aikin's other bracchi also roam two to six miles a day (three to 9.5 km) a day at a nature preserve near Aiken's home in Aiken, South Carolina.
“It’s not a breed for everyone," she said. "This breed needs to be worked.”
New York-based Associated Press journalist Jennifer Peltz has covered the Westminster dog show since 2013.