AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 | 10:30 p.m.
NEW YORK — A bloodhound is on the trail at America's top dog show.
A crowd pleaser at 135 pounds, Nathan won the hound group at the Westminster Kennel Club on Monday night.
"He's a kissing hound," handler Heather Helmer said.
Nathan proved that last week during a promotional visit to a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden when he smooched a couple of cheerleaders.
Back on the green carpet at the Garden, he got down to business. Nose alert and tail wagging, the 3-year-old walked his way into the best-of-seven final ring.
A seven-pound miniature pinscher took the toy group, a standard poodle with 115 career best in show victories won the nonsporting category and a Cardigan Welsh corgi earned the herding title.
Left out was Swagger, the old English sheepdog that nearly won the entire competition last February. A year after finishing second, he fell short in the herding group at the 138th Westminster.
Sporting, working and terrier dogs will compete Tuesday. The best in show will be chosen shortly before 11 p.m.
There were a total of 2,845 entries for America's top dog show. They were eligible in 190 breeds and varieties, and all of them drew support.
"Basset!" shouted one fan during a break. "Pug!" another one yelled later.
Along with the four group winners, prime contenders to walk off with the prized silver bowl are Sky the wire fox terrier, Matisse the Portuguese water dog, Riley the Irish water spaniel and the Fifinator, a Doberman that has her own Facebook page.
A pet who lives with Tampa Bay Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan earned an early ribbon. Of the 44 Australian shepherds entered, his Copperridge What's Your Dream was picked.
"It's incredible that she went from my No. 1 bed buddy to best of breed at Westminster!!!" Hanigan wrote in a text message.
Three new breeds were welcomed to the show this year — the chinook, the Portuguese podengo pequeno and the rat terrier.
Plus, a mixed-breed dog made an appearance.
Always a show for purebreds, Westminster included an agility competition Saturday night that included mixes. The top "all-American" dog, as they're known in show parlance, made an appearance Monday night at the Garden. Husky-mix Roo! got a big ovation for jumping high in the center ring.
A fixture forever at dog shows, a standard poodle advanced this time. Fancy-cut Ally needs three to four hours of prep time, and it paid off.
"She's endearing and not a mean bone in her body," handler Tim Brazier said. "But when you first meet her, she's a typical poodle. Quite snooty."
Coco Posh the Cardigan Welsh corgi won despite a diminished rooting section. One of her three owners was in a hospital in Baton Rouge, La., recovering from back surgery earlier in the day.
A miniature pinscher called Classie is a pure delight to handler Armando Angelbello.
"It's like living with a toddler that never grows up," he said.
Earlier in the day, breed judging was held on the piers that jut into the Hudson River.
Among the dogs and fans was Team Wembley. Maxine Freifeld of La Costa, Calif., and about 30 friends and family members came to Pier 92 to root for her Havanese.
Wearing their "Team Wembley" T-shirts and hollering for her, the group wound up with a ribbon for honorable mention. Not bad for a first-time dog and owner at Westminster.
Wembley got to experience something else for the first time, too. She went for a walk in Central Park and noticed something strange on the ground.
"She'd never seen snow. She was like, 'What is this?'" Freifeld said. "I kept telling her it was OK."