TARRYTOWN, NY (AP) – Flavor of the Year at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show: Wasabi.
A Pekingese named Wasabi took home the best of the show on Sunday night, notching a fifth victory for this unmistakable toy breed. A whippet named Bourbon repeated as a finalist.
Waddling in a small but mighty round in the ring, Wasabi clinched America’s most prestigious dogdom award after winning the Great U.S. National Kennel Club Championship in 2019.
“He has a sense of the spectacle. It corresponds to the breed standard. He’s got that little extra something, that shine, that sets a dog apart, ”said Wasabi master and breeder David Fitzpatrick, who guided Peke’s grandfather, Malachy, to the Westminster title in 2012.
How is Wasabi going to celebrate?
“He can have a filet mignon. And I’ll have champagne, ”said Fitzpatrick, of East Berlin, Pa., Laughing.
Wasabi topped a group of finalists which also included Mathew the French Bulldog, Connor the Old English Sheepdog, Jade the German Shorthair Pointer, Striker the Samoyed and a West Highland White Terrier named Boy. A total of 2,500 champion dogs participated in the show.
It has undergone big changes this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving New York City for the first time since the show’s founding in 1877. This year’s show took place outside in a area of the suburb of Tarrytown, about 25 miles north of where the top ribbon is typically shown in Madison Square Garden, and it performed in June instead of February.
A sign of the days of the pandemic, some handlers wore masks – although those vaccinated were allowed to do without them – and the show was closed to the public.
Striker entered the show as the top ranked American dog, with over 40 best wins since January 2020. And Bourbon had also won the AKC National Championship.
The show was bittersweet for Jade’s manager and co-owner, Valerie Nunes-Atkinson. She guided Jade’s father, CJ, to a Westminster victory in 2016 – and lost it last September, when the 7-year-old suddenly died of a fungal infection.
“The good part is that he left an incredible legacy,” said Nunes-Atkinson, of Temecula, Calif. She said Jade “had my heart” from birth.
Boy had come a long way to Westminster – from Thailand, where one of his owners was watching from Bangkok, according to manager Rebecca Cross.
“He always makes us laugh,” said Cross, of Gettysburg, Pa.
For many dog owners, just getting to Westminster is a pleasure – even for all-time baseball leader Barry Bonds, who was cheering on a miniature schnauzer he owns with his sister Cheryl Dugan.
The dog, Rocky, did not win his breed, but the slugger said he was proud of Rocky just for qualifying for the champions show.
“We won because we got here. That’s all that matters, ”Bonds told Fox Sports. “I’ve been in a lot of playoffs, I’ve been in the World Series, and I’ve never won. But for 22 years, I kept trying.
Bonds, 56, holds the career baseball record at 762, though his achievement has been clouded by allegations of steroid use – he has denied knowingly taking them.
While the semi-finals and finals were held in an air-conditioned tent, the early stages of the competition took place on the grass of an estate called Lyndhurst.
Douglas Tighe, who took care of a Brittany named Pennie in second place in the sports group, says he only accepts it if his dogs are distracted by birds and other outdoor attractions.
“Let them have fun,” said Tighe, of Hope, New Jersey. “That’s the whole story.”
This is also what it is for Kole Brown. At age 9, he showed off a bull terrier named Riley on Sunday alongside his parents, Kurtis Brown and U.S. Air Force Captain Samantha Brown, and other family bull terriers.
“I have a lot of fun with this sport,” said Kole, of San Antonio, Texas. “Every time I step into the ring I have a smile on my face.”
Associated Press writer Ben Walker contributed to this report from New York.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost