NEW YORK - More than 2,800 dogs, from tiny Chihuahuas to massive Great Danes, converged on New York City on Monday to compete for the top prize in the storied Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Westminster, the second-oldest sporting event in the United States behind the Kentucky Derby horse race, drew entries from 200 breeds this year, the kennel club said. The final winner will be announced on Tuesday evening.
Dogs from 49 states and 16 foreign countries are in this year's show, where they are judged on characteristics specific to their breeds.
Individual breeds are judged during the day, with the winners of each moving on to group competitions on Monday and Tuesday evenings. The winners of seven groups then compete for the final "Best in Show" award on Tuesday.
Canines belonging to the hound, herding, toy and non-sporting groups were being groomed and crated backstage at Madison Square Garden on Monday waiting to take the floor.
"I don't expect her win in her group. I just want her to show well so people can see what a great breed she is," said Pennsylvania handler Kathy Schwabe of her 15-month-old Cirneco dell'Etna, named Amy Bella, who chewed on her favourite stuffed bird as a pre-game treat.
The Cirneco dell'Etna, a small-sized hound originally bred in Italy for rabbit hunting, first became eligible to compete in Westminster in 2015.
Sporting dogs, working dogs and terriers will be judged on Tuesday.
The sporting group, representing hunting and retrieving dogs, has the largest number of entries at more than 500. The most popular breed in this year's show is the golden retriever, with 65 entries.
There are three new breeds in this year's competition: the American Hairless Terrier, which was bred in the 1970s to hunt rats and other vermin; the Pumi, an ancient Hungarian herding breed, and the Sloughi, a North African sighthound.
While New York is used to seeing thousands of dogs at the show, this year the Westminster Kennel Club also welcomed back the International Cat Association for its "Meet the Breeds" day which took place on Saturday. This was the fourth time the cat association took part in those events.
An additional 330 dogs competed in an agility competition on Saturday, a separate event from this week's judged show. It featured several winners grouped by size, with the overall championship won by Trick, a six-year-old border collie.
"It's a dream come true," said Trick's owner, Rhode Island-based dog owner John Nys, of being at the show. The collie will accept a ribbon on Monday.