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Albany prepares for UKC Winter Classic

ALBANY --The United Kennel Club and area officials are preparing for dog lovers to watch more than 1,000 of the country's best coonhounds compete during this year's UKC Winter Classic.

"This is one of the first hunts we have for the year," said Tanya Raab, vice president of media for the UKC. "We are all looking forward to coming."

The event is set to take place Friday and Saturday at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds in Albany. It will be open to the public starting at 7 a.m. each day. More than 10,000 spectators are expected to converge on the fairgrounds.

Nationally recognized vendors will be on hand, offering dog and pet products. Area officials anticipate the event to bring in $1.5 million-$2 million.

"This is a great event," said Lisa Riddle, director of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau. "People from all over the country come to us. This is great exposure for us."

Last year's event brought in about $1.8 million, Riddle said.

In addition to the two Nite Hunt competitions on Friday and Saturday nights, host club Deep South CHA will hold a Thursday night hunt.

The UKC will conduct two bench shows Friday and Saturday. Teams entered in Friday's program compete for a spot in the Saturday judging and the opportunity to go against the Champion and Grand Champion caliber coonhounds for the chance to become the 2010 UKC Winter Classic Overall Champion.

"Awards will be presented throughout the day (for the bench shows)," Raab said.

Spectators are treated to the Dog Barn Showcase in which many of the coonhounds entered into the events are also on display for attendees to view up-close. Owners and breeders will also be available to discuss the breeds' temperaments, abilities, training, ownership and handling.

In accordance with UKC rules and regulations, no game is taken and no firearms are allowed. Spectators are asked to not bring their dogs or pets to the event. Dogs not registered to compete are not allowed onto the event grounds.

An awards ceremony will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday to crown the Purina Outstanding Coonhound of the Year for the Nite Hunt and the Bench Show series. Contenders have competed throughout the last year for the award.

"They are based on cumulative points from the last year," Raab said.

The Winter Classic's show champion will be recognized Saturday, and the hunt champion will be recognized Sunday. On Saturday, the Triple Crown winner will be acknowledged.

The coming Winter Classic will be the 23rd annual event, with most of the previous events being held in Albany.

The Winter Classic holds the distinction as the first UKC Triple Crown event of the year. Points earned during the event will go toward each dog's year-end Triple Crown total and the chance to win the $3,000 year-end award presented by Black Gold Premium Dog Food.