Vigow was undefeated in breed competition, ultimately winning 63 groups and 21 BIS
By Amy Fernandez
Originally published at The Canine Chronical Digital Edition
On March 11, 1936 AKC crowned its first American-Bred dog of the year. Ironically, the honor went to a Borzoi, then known as the Russian Wolfhound, breeder/owner/handled by the French-born Louis Murr. His Romanoff Borzoi kennel in Spring Valley, New York produced decades of winners. But none equaled the fame of Ch. Vigow of Romanoff.
Offered annually until 1939, AKC’s American-Bred competition was initiated to showcase and encourage American breeders at a time when imports dominated the ring.
Finalists were selected on the basis of group wins and Vigow defeated some heavy hitters that year including Mrs. Cheever Porter’s Irish Setter, Ch. Milson O’Boy, Marie Leary’s Ch. Anthony of Cosalta, and one of the Bondy’s best Wires, Ch. Leading Lady of Wildoaks.
Vigow repeated this feat in 1937, and remained top-ranked until 1938, eclipsing the record of his equally famous sire Ch. Vigow O’Valley Farm. His career included 38 Group Firsts and eight BIS wins, accomplishments that seemed highly unlikely when Murr acquired him in 1929.
Then in deplorable condition, Murr purchased him solely for his dazzling pedigree, which melded perfectly with the breeding program he had been constructing since 1920. Bred to a third generation Romanoff bitch, Vigow justified Murr’s hunch. The litter yielded four champions including two BIS winners.
Murr’s Romanoff bloodline was founded on stock tracing directly to Borzoi imported by Joseph Thomas for his legendary Valley Farm kennel in nearby Connecticut. The undisputed superstar among them was Vigow’s grandsire, Ch. Bistri of Perchino, bred by Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich and imported to America in 1903.
Despite growing popularity since the first Borzoi arrived from England in 1899, quality and type were conspicuously scarce, nothing like the powerful, graceful coursing hounds Thomas envisioned. He knew what he wanted. Finding it was another story. After visiting kennels in America, Canada, and Europe he was equally disappointed by Russian Borzoi until he ventured thousands of miles to a kennel in the remote province of Tula. There he found over 300 Borzoi personifying the type he imagined with long beautiful heads, great bone and muscle, deep chests, excellent feet, and gorgeous coats.
They represented three decades of dedication for Grand Duke Nicholas, uncle of Russia’s last Czar. Once common, Russia’s grand hunt kennels disappeared in the wake of economic and social upheavals. Perchino was an anachronism, but creating it had required more than royal money and connections. For decades, Russian Borzoi were heavily crossbred to Greyhounds. Purebred specimens became extremely rare.
Thomas returned with stock from two remaining strongholds of working type, Perchino and Woronzova, including Bistri and Raskida, sire and dam of his superstar Ch. Rasboi O’Valley Farm, took BOB at Westminster four consecutive years. Within a year, Valley Farm Borzoi annihilated the competition. In little over a decade, Thomas achieved his ambition of reinstating genuine Borzoi type. His well-timed imports also ensured the perpetuation of crucial bloodlines after Imperial Russia’s demise. He was instrumental in founding the Russian Wolfhound Club of America and authored the breed’s first American standard. His meteoric rise was matched by his abrupt departure from the breed. “The Valley Farm Kennels produced hundreds of high-class borzoi; indeed, twenty-five years ago it would have been difficult to find from one end of the country to the other an American-bred borzoi that wasn’t chock-full of Valley Farm blood – a stream of lineage that had its direct source at the fountainhead of all that was good in Russia.” (AKC Gazette, Oct. 1931) Valley Farm stock seeded key bloodlines including Romanoff.
AKC Judge Mr. Louis Murr
Murr’s involvement with Borzoi commenced in 1914 and he registered his Romanoff prefix in 1922. In 1931 he relocated his growing kennel to ten acres in Spring Valley. He converted a hillside barn into the main kennel, built dozens of spacious pens and paddocks, but preferred allowing his dogs maximum freedom. Vigow was a living testament to his belief in premium food and unlimited exercise. Romanoff maintained 40 adults and bred about 75 puppies annually. Rarely kenneled, they generally lived in large groups. Famed for their rock hard condition, Murr also believed that this unrestricted, natural environment encouraged steadiness and minimized fighting.
In 1938, the AKC Blue Book of Dogs called Romanoff Borzoi Kennel, “one of the largest on this continent, if not the largest; one of the best, if not the best.” Murr routinely piled six to eight Borzoi into his car for, undoubtedly lively, drives to shows. Shown 72 times, Vigow was undefeated in breed competition, ultimately winning 63 groups and 21 BIS. This total might have gone higher. Unfortunately his career abruptly ended at age five when he was killed by a kennelmate.
Murr went on to produce other notable winners, taking two of them to Westminster group wins in 1942 and 1943. He is best remembered as a popular all breed judge. He judged 19 Westminster assignments between 1925 and 1971 including his 1969 BIS award to Ch. Glamoor Good News, owner/handled by Walter Goodman. Numerous important American bloodlines like Tamboer and Majenkir have been founded on Romanoff stock.
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I would like to share the above article about Vigow of Romanoff and Louis Murr, Vigow was the most famous borzoi our country ever knew up until 2018 when the borzoi bitch “Lucy” broke all of his records, “Lucy” , the same borzoi bitch who is the grand-daughter of Blyss Kennel’s “Mikhailya”, through her son, “Magnus”, or “Max”, as some people refer to him. I also want to share Vigow of Romanoff’s story with you by posting this article and photograph on my website.
There is another reason I would like to post this article on my website. Luis Murr was the mentor of my mentor, Karen Staudt-Cartabona, and on more than one occasion she has quoted him in discussions of borzoi when club members and friends were gathered at shows or club meetings or a dinner. My husband, Bob, and I were greatly privileged to have Karen as a mentor and friend, especially since she was a student of Louis Murr,. Karen greatly revered him and instilled the same reverence of him in us all. She got the idea for the design of her kennel from him, and it accommodated a very large number of borzoi, ideal for breeding a line of a large breed of dog. But, I always remembered a brief remark she made in passing over dinner one night, in talking about a visit to O’Valley Farms and speaking with Louis Murr, and commenting about what she liked when she saw a particular borzoi. She related that he rebuked her saying it is not important what you like, but what is correct, to the standard. Through Karen Staudt-Cartabona,, my mentor, to whom I owe so much, my kennel goes back to Louis Murr. It is ironic that a bitch of our line defeated Vigow’s long held and respected record. It goes without being said, we used Karen’s stud dog for “Mikhailya’s” breeding.
Although my husband is gone, and I no longer have borzoi, my passion for the breed is undiminished. I am grateful to the clubs and friendships I am blessed to have because of twenty years of owning borzoi and being loved by them.
May I add the following words, because in life there is always change and often with change comes loss.
A million words won’t bring you back, I know because I tried;
Neither would a million tears, I know because I cried.