• Bark Bracket: Retrievers become top dogs, boosted by UMBC

    By: BEN WALKER, AP Sports Writer

    Updated:

    They're now at the top of the Bark Bracket.

    Very good dog, you Retrievers!

    In a sport full of Bulldogs, Huskies and Terriers, a new breed is suddenly ruling the NCAA basketball tournament - and beyond.

    All thanks to those underdogs at UMBC.

    "How 'bout those Retrievers?" dog expert David Frei raved. "This is their moment."

    'Bout time, too.

    Always in the doghouse at America's most prestigious pooch pageant, no retriever has ever won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club, a competition that began in 1877.

    Not a single Chesapeake Bay retriever, the state dog of Maryland and the mascot for the 16th-seeded University of Maryland-Baltimore County team that toppled mighty Virginia on Friday night.

    Not a friendly Labrador retriever, the most popular dog in the United States for more than 25 years, according to the American Kennel Club. Nor a sweet golden, another favorite family pet.

    And zero wins for the flat-coated, curly-coated or Nova Scotia duck tolling varieties.

    "No, it's not fair," JoAnn Colvin lamented.

    Colvin, an owner and breeder of fine Chesapeake Bay retrievers for over three decades, lives in upstate New York and has attended Syracuse basketball games.

    Colvin also owns the dog that was judged last month as the best Chessie at Westminster and showed at Madison Square Garden.

    Her name? Fittingly, in the glow of UMBC's win, it's Hope.

    "We, of course, were certainly pleased to hear about what happened," Colvin said.

    And Retriever Fever was catching, with hoop fans and dog fanciers alike posting pictures of lovable retrievers on social media as UMBC prepared to play Kansas State on Sunday night.

    Known for their webbed feet, and an oily, wavy coat that helps make them extremely agile in the water, Chesapeake Bays "are probably the most intense of the retrievers," Frei said.

    "You can tell a golden. You can order a Labrador. But you have to negotiate with a Chessie," he said.

    The breed is considered strong, well-balanced and intelligent, and eager to work. Their colors range from a combination of dark brown to a strawberry blonde to yellow - "sedge" and "deadgrass" are the official shades.

    Overall, Chesapeake Bay retrievers have recently ranked among the 45 most popular purebred breeds in the country.

    Frei, formerly the longtime TV voice of Westminster, host of the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving and currently prepping for the Beverly Hills Dog Show telecast April 1 on USA Network, said there's no specific reason why Chessies haven't become top dogs in the ring.

    "They fall into that retriever mentality," he said. "They're more concerned about the people around them than the judge."

    UMBC's first class in 1966 picked the Chesapeake Bay retriever as the school mascot. A 500-pound bronze statue of a Chessie named True Grit is on campus, and students like to rub his nose for good luck during finals week.

    The Retrievers next take on the ninth-seeded Wildcats in Charlotte, North Carolina. UMBC is a 10-point underdog in one of the most ancient rivalries on the planet - dogs vs. cats.

    Then again, remember this: a month ago, the Lunar New Year began.

    Yep, Retriever fans, it's the Year of the Dog.

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