Kaz Hosaka wins his second Westminster Best in Show with Miniature Poodle Sage. He is the 15th handler to win Best in Show twice at Westminster.
Fri, 06/14/2024 - 11:01pm

Simply the Best

For Kaz Hozaka and his Miniature Poodle ‘Sage,’ Westminster 2024 was a fitting finale

Kaz Hosaka carried the winner of the Non-Sporting Group, Miniature Poodle # 16, from backstage to the Best in Show ring at the 148th Westminster dog show.

“Poodles never get used to the ring,” he says. “But she’s fine if I carry her.”

The handler of seven Westminster Group winners — all of them Poodles — Kaz, of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, knows it is the nature of the breed to be acutely aware of its surroundings.

Steadying his own nerves came first.

“The only thing between us is the leash,” he says. “Poodles are very sensitive. I have to be calm myself, or she will know I am nervous. In the ring, I talk to her all the time to keep her focused on me. I bait her, praise her and touch her to keep her calm.”

This was Kaz’s last dog show after 45 years showing Poodles. He was retiring.

The 3½-year-old black bitch named “Sage” (MBIS/MBISS GChG Surrey Sage) did not qualify for the 2023 Westminster show. Her points ran short.

Yet “Sage is the best I’ve ever bred,” Kaz says.


Sage gaits around the Westminster Best in Show ring at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York, while the crowd claps loudly. "This time, I had the feeling the audience was behind us. It made me so happy," says handler Kaz Hosaka. 


The Miniature Poodle had a stunted show campaign through no fault of her own. She finished as a puppy and was on a trajectory to becoming a top-ranked dog.

That is, until Kaz fell in October 2022 while washing his 13-foot-high box truck. It was the last thing he had to do before leaving the next day for the Poodle Club of America National Specialty, which was delayed due to the pandemic. Sage would have been his Bred-by Exhibitor bitch entry. She was groomed, and everything was packed and ready to go.

One metal plate and 13 pins later, Kaz began an eight-month recovery from his shattered right heel. After six months, while still in rehab, he went to a dog show with Sage, and then took a couple of weeks off before going again. Running around the ring and carrying the 20-pound Poodle to the examination table put weight on his heel that caused pain and swelling in his leg.

A shift in expectations came into play.

“We weren’t going for a Top 10 ranking,” he said.

Still, they finished 2023 ranked number 16 among all dogs (Dog News system) and number 3 in Non-Sporting.

As Westminster drew closer, there were residual effects from the injury, though most people would never know. Kaz showed Sage stoically, a picture of effortless movement.

Karma prevailed. In this case, lucky number 22 would answer Kaz’s dreams.


Kaz plays with Miniature Poodles Spice, left, and her daughter, Jamey, in 2007. Spice, who was co-bred by Kaz and Anne Rogers Clark, won Best in Show at Westminster in 2002.


“I entered my first Westminster show in 1980, and 22 years later, on February 12, 2002, I won Best in Show with ‘Spice Girl’ [MBIS Ch. Surrey Spice Girl], and 22 years later, I win Best in Show with Sage,” Kaz says.

Superstitions aside, his email address includes that lucky number 22.

Before millions watching live on television, Sage won her 36th Best in Show at Westminster. She became the fourth Miniature Poodle to win Best in Show there. Standards have won five times, and Toy Poodles twice.

Best in Show judge Rosalind Kramer recognized Sage’s beautiful breed type. “The Miniature Poodle has an incredible head and coat, a great tail set and showed like a million bucks,” Kramer said after the show.

“The last two months, I was adjusting Sage’s hair every day,” Kaz says. “Poodle hair takes a long time to put together.

“People don’t know how difficult it is to show Poodles. Poodle handlers are the first to arrive and the last to leave a show. There are two hours of washing, trimming and spraying each day before a show, and 45 minutes of washing out the spray after the show. Every day you have to maintain and condition the hair.”

Sage was co-bred by Kathleen Wallen of Pennsylvania. Cathy Gauche of Houston, the owner, has also campaigned Toy Poodles with Kaz. Most recently, GChG Smash JP Copenhagen was the number-one all-breed Toy from 2018 to 2020.

Kaz is one of 15 handlers who has won Best in Show at Westminster twice. Only three people have won three times, one being the late Anne Rogers Clark, Kaz’s mentor and co-breeder of Miniature Poodles under the Surrey kennel prefix.


The Surrey Beginning


Sage is linebred off the Surrey pedigree. Spice Girl is her maternal great-great-granddam and her paternal great-great-great-granddam. Sage’s Surrey bitch line through five generations represents more than 120 Bests in Show.

Among them is Kaz’s first big winner, “Pepper” (Ch. Surrey Sweet Capsicum), the winner of 34 Bests in Show, owned by the late Robert A. Koeppel. Pepper was the number-one Non-Sporting dog and won the Westminster Non-Sporting Group and the PCA National Specialty in 1995.

“Miniatures are very hard to win Best in Show. It’s hard for them to beat Standards in the Non-Sporting Group,” Kaz says.

“Mrs. Clark would be so proud. She would love Sage,” he adds.

Kaz remembers winning in 2002 with Spice Girl, whom he and Mrs. Clark co-bred.

“Mrs. Clark said, ‘You did good, Kaz,’” he recalls.

Anne Rogers Clark was straight out of a Westminster Who’s Who. She was the first female professional handler to win Best in Show in 1956, winning again in 1959 and 1961. She judged the show a record 22 times, the only person to judge all seven groups and Best in Show. Along with her husband, James, she did live commentary of the show for two decades until the mid-1980s.

The Clarks met Kaz in March 1979, when the then-19-year-old handled a Standard Poodle at a specialty show they were judging in Tokyo. Months later, they called him and through an interpreter said, “If you want to be a professional dog handler, come to the United States. We will teach you how to show dogs.”

In August 1979, Kaz arrived in the U.S. to apprentice with Mrs. Clark, who had retired from handling but was still a breeder. He knew no English. The kennel had English Cocker Spaniels, Norfolk Terriers and Miniature Poodles bred under Mrs. Clark’s Surrey prefix, and Standard Poodles, Whippets and Smooth Fox Terriers bred under Mr. Clark’s Rimskittle prefix.

“Mr. and Mrs. Clark were like my parents,” Kaz says. “He was like my father, teaching me how to live in this country. Mrs. Clark taught me everything about the dogs. She was very strict and had a focused nervousness the day before we went to a show. Everything had to be perfect.”

“One day, she asked me, ‘What is your dream?’”

“I answered, ‘Best in Show,’” he remembers.

“If you try hard, the dream will come true,” she told him.

Not quite three years after coming to the U.S., it happened.

“I won the Non-Sporting Group and Best in Show for the first time on May 16, 1982, at the Lancaster Kennel Club show,” says Kaz, the date of the Pennsylvania show etched in his memory. “This was when Poodle entries were so much larger than today. I won with the black female Miniature Poodle, Ch. Surrey Sakura.”

A few years later, he would name his kennel Sakura.


Kaz named his Sakura Kennels for his first Best in Show winner, the Miniature Poodle Ch. Surrey Sakura. She won Best in Show at the Lancaster Kennel Club on May 16, 1982.


In July 1982, Kaz returned to Japan. He quickly became the top handler there, though he had lost interest in showing dogs in Japan. In America, there were so many great handlers, he says.

He returned to the U.S. in 1983 on a three-month visa, arriving with $300 in his pocket and a great desire to succeed as a handler. Mr. Clark contacted a lawyer who helped Kaz get a green card so he could stay and work. Seven years later, he became a U.S. citizen.

After working for the Clarks for a year, Kaz started showing professionally in 1984.


Settling Sakura


Kaz settled in Greenwood, Delaware, in 1990 on a 28-acre property that Mr. Clark, who worked in real estate, helped him find. A large kennel and house allowed Kaz to have three or four Japanese assistants to help him with the Poodles.

Among his successes, Kaz won more than 200 Bests in Show with Toy Poodles. He showed the top-winning Toy in breed history, “Vikki” (MBIS/MBISS Ch. Smash JP Win A Victory), owned by the late Ron Scott. The white Toy bitch was the number-one all-breed dog in the country in 2007 and a two-time Westminster Toy Group winner in 2007 and 2008.


Kaz handling the top-winning Toy Poodle in breed history, Vikki, who won 108 Bests in Show. She was the number-one dog in the country in 2007 and a two-time Westminster Toy Group winner.


One year after Kaz moved to Greenwood, Mr. Clark passed away. Kaz gave Mrs. Clark some property on which she built her house, so she could live next door to be near her “son.” Although the Clarks never had children, they loved Kaz as if he were their own.

“You could ask her any question, and she would always have an answer,” he says.

Among his memories of Mrs. Clark, he says, “After a dog show, we would sit together, and she would say, ‘Tell me what happened at the dog show. Why didn’t you win? Why did the judge like the other dog? Who won group? Who won Best in Show?’

“‘You’ve got to know everything because you will show again under that judge. You want to know what he likes for the next time you make an entry,’ she would say.”

Breeders would bring their Poodle puppies for Mrs. Clark to evaluate.

“She would ask me to go over them first and rank them,” Kaz says. “She would say, ‘Why? Why did you pick that one? This one should be first. If you don’t know a good dog, you cannot put a good trim on a dog. You’ve got to know what is right and wrong and how to judge a dog.’”

Being gifted with knowledge from Mrs. Clark gave Kaz an edge, particularly when grooming Poodles.

“Trimming every dog is different. If the trim is not right, Poodles don’t come out. Only one perfect trim exists for each dog. I learned from Mrs. Clark how important this is,” he says.

Sage was the exception.

“This bitch is amazing. She doesn’t need a special trim to hide anything,” he says.

“Judges would say to me, ‘Kaz, this is the best Poodle you’ve ever shown.’ Judges I never won under put her up,” he says.

Other things made Sage unique as well.


Kaz Hosaka and his wife, Roxanne, in a 2006 photo. Their family of dogs includes Sage; her brother, Bay; their granddam Sugar Baby, and three rescue Poodles. 


Five years ago, Kaz sold the big house and kennel in Greenwood and moved with his wife, Roxanne, into Mrs. Clark’s house next door while their new home was being built in Rehoboth Beach. The transition meant there would be no assistants and no more showing dogs every weekend.

As a result, Sage and her brother “Bay” (Ch. Surrey Bay) were whelped and raised in the Hosakas’ living room.

“Sage and her brother were raised like pet dogs. I never had a chance to do that with all the other dogs,” Kaz says. “Roxanne took them to coffee shops and walks on the beach. It made a big difference. It gave Sage a much steadier temperament.”

A tsunami of emotions accompanies Kaz’s decision to retire.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he says. “Sage is the best dog I’ve ever bred. It would be hard to show a better Miniature Poodle. This is more than the perfect way to retire.”

You can almost hear Anne Rogers Clark say, “You did good, Kaz.”


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