May 28th, 2024

Miniature poodle named Sage wins Westminster Kennel Club dog show

By Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press on May 14, 2024.

A golden retriever and its handler wait to compete in breed group judging at the 148th Westminster Kennel Club Dog show, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

NEW YORK (AP) – A miniature poodle named Sage won the top prize at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show Tuesday night.

Sage bested six other finalists to claim the best in show award at the United States’ most illustrious canine event.

Each stood, strode and sought to shine before the judge at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the home of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

In all, more than 2,500 dogs spanning about 200 breeds and varieties entered the show. They’re judged according to which one best matches the “standard,” or ideal, for its breed.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) – If every dog must have its day, one champion canine is about to have its year.

By the end of Tuesday night, one of the more than 2,500 hounds, terriers, spaniels, setters and others that entered this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show will be crowned best in show.

Will Comet the shih tzu streak to new heights after winning the big American Kennel Club National Championship last year? Could Monty, a giant schnauzer who is the nation’s top-ranked dog, make a play for the Westminster title that narrowly eluded him last year?

Or would a wise bet be Sage the miniature poodle or Mercedes the German shepherd, both guided by handlers who have won the big prize before?

What about Louis, the Afghan hound whose handler and co-owner says he lives up to his breed’s nickname as “the king of dogs”? Or Micah, the striking black cocker spaniel, or Frankie, the colored bull terrier?

All seven were set to face off in the final round of the United States’ most illustrious dog show. It’s being held in the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

In an event where all competitors are champions in the sport’s point system, winning can depend on subtleties and a standout turn in the ring.

“Just to be in the ring with everyone else is an honor,” Monty’s handler and co-owner, Katie Bernardin, said in the ring after his semifinal win. “We all love our dogs. We’re trying our best.”

Monty, who also was a finalist last year, is “a stallion” of a giant schnauzer, Bernardin of Chaplin, Connecticut, said in an interview before his semifinal win. She described him as solid, powerful and “very spirited.”

So “spirited” that while Bernardin was pregnant, she did obedience and other dog sports with Monty because he needed the stimulation.

While she loves giant schnauzers, “they’re not an easy breed,” she cautions would-be owners. But she adds that the driven dogs can be great to have “if you can put the time into it.”

Dogs first compete against others of their breed. Then the winner of each breed goes up against others in its “group.” The seven group winners meet in the final round.

The best in show winner gets a trophy and a place in dog-world history, but no cash prize.

Other dogs that vied in vain for a spot in the finals included Stache, a Sealyham terrier. He won the National Dog Show that was televised on Thanksgiving and took top prize at a big terrier show in Pennsylvania last fall.

Stache showcases a rare breed that’s considered vulnerable to extinction even in its native Britain.

“They’re a little-known treasure,” said Stache’s co-owner, co-breeder and handler, Margery Good of Cochranville, Pennsylvania, who has bred “Sealys” for half a century. Originally developed in Wales to hunt badgers and other burrowing game, the terriers with a “fall” of hair over their eyes are courageous but comedic – Good dubs them “silly hams.”

Westminster can feel like a study in canine contrasts. Just walking around, a visitor could see a Chihuahua peering out of a carrying bag at a stocky Neapolitan mastiff, a ring full of honey-colored golden retrievers beside a lineup of stark-black giant schnauzers, and handlers with dogs far larger than themselves.

Shane Jichetti was one of them. Ralphie, the 175-pound (34-kg) great Dane she co-owns, outweighs her by a lot. It takes considerable experience to show so big an animal, but “if you have a bond with your dog, and you just go with it, it works out,” she said.

Plus Ralphie, for all his size, is “so chill,” said Jichetti. Playful at home on New York’s Staten Island, he’s spot-on – just like his harlequin-pattern coat – when it’s time to go in the ring.

“He’s just an honest dog,” Jichetti said.

The Westminster show, which dates to 1877, centers on the traditional purebred judging that leads to the best in show prize. But over the last decade, the club has added agility and obedience events open to mixed-breed dogs.

And this year, the agility competition counted its first non-purebred winner, a border collie-papillon mix named Nimble.

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